Soda Taxes

Taxing Away Sweet Drinks: Plenty of Baptists, But No Bootleggers

Soda tax moralizers are easy to find, but where are our sweetened-beverage bootleggers?



Amidst all the revelry and regret concerning the Republican election-day sweep, it was easy to miss another groundbreaking victory. Voters in the city of Berkeley, California, gave roaring support for a one-cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks, the first ever in the United States.

As many as 30 previous attempts by U.S. cities and states to tax away sugar in soda have failed, including ballot efforts in San Francisco, Richmond, and El Monte, California, this year alone. What seems like a perfect opportunity for bootleggers and Baptists to perform their political magic just hasn't been working very well.

Why "bootleggers and Baptists"? Recall that both historically supported laws that shut down liquor stores on Sunday, but for entirely different reasons. Taking the moral high ground, the Baptists fervently hoped to see a decline in alcohol consumption. Just as fervently, the bootleggers longed to eliminate competition at least for one day a week. Together, they formed a powerful duo.

The combination of moral and economic interests in pursuing political goals is potent stuff. When this winning coalition goes into cahoots, the politicians smile. One group offers moral cover for actions that put cash in the hip pockets of another politically-important interest group. So how has this played out in attempts to get taxes imposed on sweet drinks?

The "Baptist" part of the story is clear cut. Long-time support for such excise taxes comes from the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the NAACP. These and other organizations see sweet drinks as a major detriment to American health and well-being that feeds our skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates.

And, of course, there was the prominent attempt by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to impose sugary drink strictures. Though he failed to limit consumption in New York City when mayor, he nonetheless passed along $600,000 of his personal wealth to support Berkeley's sugary-drink tax proposal. 

But where are the bootleggers? If we probe a wee bit deeper, we may discover why there is no bootlegger/Baptist success story for taxing away sugary drink consumption. Bootleggers are generally associated with producing substitutes for the highly-taxed or regulated item. For example, U.S. producers of natural gas love it when the Environmental Protection Agency places heavy restrictions on coal-burning power plants.

But in this case, the producers of the sweet drinks are also the producers of the substitutes. For them, loss of sweet-drink sales just means more sales for fruit juices and water products, which they also produce. Put another way, there are no additional revenues or new customers waiting in the wing for regulation to enable. And to make matters worse for those who would like to tax sweet drinks, most bootleggers hate taxes. They want the competition wiped out, not taxed. 

As we see it, "Baptist" proponents of taxes on sugary drinks will just have to deal with disappointment until some yet to be discovered bootlegger sees a way to make money when sweet drinks are taxed. Until that day, enjoy the sugar while it lasts.

NEXT: Jesse Walker on Skepticism and Nostalgia in the 70s

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  1. OK, maybe we don’t pay teachers enough. Check out this email my 3rd grader’s teacher sent recently.


    I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe break. I am so very thankful for each and everyone one of you. It has been a pleasure to teach your child this far!!Please have them to keep reading over the break 🙂

    She signed the email with “M.Ed.” after her name too. I’m not normally a grammar nazi, but WTF. Yes, it is a public school, in case that wasn’t obvious.

    1. She signed the email with “M.Ed.” after her name too. I’m not normally a grammar nazi, but WTF.

      Attacking someone’s grammar is absolutely fine when they’re pretentious enough to have M.ED. after their name.

    2. I’m pretty annoyed thus far.

    3. “I’m not normally a grammar nazi, but WTF.”

      Nor am I yet I wonder what happened to your question mark.

    4. Madame Ed, Mr. Ed’s French wife?

    5. We should club M.Ed.

    6. Is English her first language?

    7. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail

      ?????????? http://www.walletwiki.Com

  2. ATF agents runs fake retail stores, damage the property they’re renting, and only get caught when they refuse to pay rent and damages.

    Ira Glass: And they were robbed. [They] had three guns that were stolen out of an agent’s car while he was parked at a coffee shop. These included a fully automatic rifle. This is a machine gun, the kind that normally only law enforcement and military can legally have.

    Not long after that, the store itself was burglarized of $39,000 in clothes, jewelry, and merch, reportedly, because the ATF had not bothered to do much to secure the store and just did not seem to care. Nobody was minding the store, literally.

    John Diedrich: The ATF had no working burglar alarm on their building. So it was sort of, instead of a smash and grab, it was just this sort of like slow burglary. The neighbors report at one point, once they were able to get in– again, no burglar alarm– they kept the door propped open with a shoe. And they were just kind of taking stuff out.

    And the word sort of spread. Hey, this place is just open. Nobody’s there. We can just go get stuff. And at one point they just pulled up a U-Haul. And they were just sort of emptying this. And this is over several days. And then even–

    1. The story details just how incredibly counterproductive all these efforts were. Since they were paying super high prices for guns, people would suddenly start stealing guns just because the ATF was making them so valuable. And, despite the ATF pretending otherwise, the case in Milwaukee was hardly a one-off situation.

      We found in Portland the lady just said, I am so glad you called. She said, I have not known what to do. She said, they left my place in shambles. She had photos of what they left it like– I mean, like a college fraternity or something. Just trash everywhere, they tore out some walls and they rewired some stuff and caused a leaky roof. She estimates her damages were probably $20,000 roughly, $20,000, $25,000. So that, you think, how does that happen? Is that, again, part of the playbook?

      Raquel and John looked into ATF storefronts in Wichita, Portland, Oregon, Pensacola, Albuquerque, Atlanta, and Phoenix. Some of the Milwaukee problems they found examples of in those other cities? Agents paying extra high prices for guns, buying stolen goods, criminals committing burglaries in the neighborhoods around the stores and then selling the stuff to the ATF. Raquel and John say that the quality of the convictions from these operations around the country, the kinds of people that the ATF was catching were mostly small fry, just like in Milwaukee. The ATF store in Pensacola was robbed just like the Milwaukee store was, twice.

      1. I’m sure the NYT will get right on this story

        1. Obama Beset with New Fake Scandal


          Republicans Blame Obama for Petty Theft

      2. The Milwaukee one is where they entrapped a tard, isn’t it?

        Nice to see it hitting the NPR set. Would love to see it shake some faith in the omnibenevolent state.

        1. Nah. The problem couldn’t be too much government power. Just some bad apples. Put the right people in charge and it will be fine. Yes. All you need is the right people in charge. They’ll fix it with more laws and regulations. Or more oversight. The solution to the abuse of power is always more power, because the only reason people in government abuse their power is because there isn’t someone in government with the power to stop them. As a side note, did you know that gasoline is the most effective way to put out a fire?

      3. Oh sure, more victim blaming.

  3. As goes Berkeley, so goes, well, Madison WI. And maybe Boston.

  4. You know all those pardoned turkeys from previous Thanksgivings?…

    1. This is literally the worst thing I have ever read!

        1. They literally drove that joke into the ground!

      1. ? Just a few of my favorite things…?

    2. I saw the other day that heart attacks are a leading cause of death for pre-slaughter turkeys. Prob partly explains the low population at Mt Vernon.

  5. Rape Culture circa 1978
    God, we were such savages!!

    1. More like Mr. Phallic Symbol!

  6. Not that I give a shit about Uber in particular but some idiot asshole of a judge has shut them down in the Silver State.

  7. my neighbor’s sister makes $63 an hour on the laptop . She has been unemployed for eight months but last month her pay was $18486 just working on the laptop for a few hours. have a peek at this web-site….


  8. Leilafair . you think Allen `s comment is astonishing, on friday I bought a gorgeous Aston Martin DB5 when I got my cheque for $8527 this past month and just over ten grand this past-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the most-financialy rewarding I have ever had . I began this 8-months ago and practically straight away began to earn at least $72, per hour .
    Published here ????????? ??????????

  9. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail


  10. Our government:

    Creating more business opportunities for organized crime.

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