The Spectacle Blog

Taxing Tea is Un-American; So is Taxing Soda

By on 7.31.14 | 10:57AM

Well-meaning though it may be, the federal government can never replace human responsibility and relationships. The New York Times ran an opinion piece Tuesday titled “Introducing the National Soda Tax.” Apparently Michael Bloomberg’s hope to ban big sodas lacked scope, and only a countrywide tax on the sale of saccharine swill will save us from ourselves. It’s an asinine abandonment of governmental first principles.

The role of government, in the modern, Montesquieu-inspired state our founders built, is protecting the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Or, if we look at the American Constitution, the federal government exists in large part to “provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare.” These are descriptions of a responsibility to protect us, the citizenry, from foreign invasion and from each other. There’s nothing there about protecting us from ourselves. Welfare, generally, is supposed to be promoted, not provided—the state should foster an environment allowing communal advancement, not mandating it.

The popular argument for indirect regulation like the proposed tax on soda is that obesity is everyone’s problem. That’s true to the point that the federal bureaucracy regulates the health care industry or directly provides health care. It’s not, however, an inalterable trajectory that leads us to taxing unhealthy choices like soda, which we all agree will kill you. It’s the recognition that morbidly fat people are expensive to keep alive, and the costs of that have been dispersed to the broader public. As the New York Times points out, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro just wants the cost of such sweet malignancy to be more directly borne by those who enable and consume.

Great, agreed, but bloating bureaucratic waists is not the most consistent, yea, effective, way to put the financial burden of poor choices on the waxing-waisted chooser. Remove the probing fingers of federal regulations from the constipated colon of the American health care industry. Strip oversight and let people pay for imprudence by allowing them to pay for their own health care and enter into a personalized relationship with providers. Let health care providers make demands, in contract, on the choices of their clients. The assumption behind the legislation is that if it becomes expensive to be unhealthy, at least as regards dietary decisions, than people will pursue health. That’s just as true if it’s insurance companies adding the premium rather than the feds imposing a discriminatory tax.

That’s not a complete rejection of all regulations on health care. The concern over inescapable preexisting conditions is worth considering—you don’t get leukemia because you didn’t eat enough carrots. But this is about taxing soda and discretionary health choices, and it is insensate for the federal entity to blame the soda-loving and corpulent for making our health care more expensive when it was the bureaucracy’s regulations that bound our insurance to theirs in the first place. Fixing that would require tightening the federal belt, trimming down, and forbearing from consumption of further administrative Kool-Aid, however, and the federal government only cares about other’s health choices, not its own. Besides, taxing beverages is plain un-American—look at Boston Harbor, December 1773.

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