Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hard Tax on Soft Drinks?

[In honor of Tax Day, I thought this story was appropriate. -- PSH]

Politicians and would-be do-gooders are continuing to push for massive taxes on soft drinks, according to this story in the April 8, 2009 Science News:
Coming: Hard tax on soft drinks?

In a commentary released today (ahead of print) by the New England Journal of Medicine, Yale's Kelly Brownell and New York City's health commissioner, Thomas Frieden, argue that taxing sugary drinks could go a long way toward putting a brake on obesity. It won't make fat people slim. But it could slow or prevent plump consumers from ballooning into obese individuals, they argue...
Although it maybe unwise to consume too much sugar, note that Brownell and Frieden rely on collectivist arguments to justify government intervention:
Ounces of Prevention -- The Public Policy Case for Taxes on Sugared Beverages

...The contribution of unhealthful diets to health care costs is already high and is increasing -- an estimated $79 billion is spent annually for overweight and obesity alone -- and approximately half of these costs are paid by Medicare and Medicaid, at taxpayers' expense. Diet-related diseases also cost society in terms of decreased work productivity, increased absenteeism, poorer school performance, and reduced fitness on the part of military recruits, among other negative effects.
(Their full NEJM commentary can be read here.)

But as I noted in my January 7, 2009 piece in the Christian Science Monitor, "Universal healthcare and the waistline police":
...Of course healthy diet and exercise are good. But these are issues of personal -- not government -- responsibility. So long as they don't harm others, adults should have the right to eat and drink what they wish – and the corresponding responsibility to enjoy (or suffer) the consequences of their choices. Anyone who makes poor lifestyle choices should pay the price himself or rely on voluntary charity, not demand that the government pay for his choices.

Government attempts to regulate individual lifestyles are based on the claim that they must limit medical costs that would otherwise be a burden on "society." But this issue can arise only in "universal healthcare" systems where taxpayers must pay for everyone's medical expenses.
The growing political push towards universal health care and the related push towards nanny state controls are mutually reinforcing. Americans will soon have to decide who should be in control of their lives and their health -- the individual or the government. It's not just our health at stake, but our basic freedoms.