Obesity taxes are back in the news today after the new head of the CDC has suggested that taxes on soda could help combat obesity in America (as if it’s the job of a government agency anyway to be concerned with obesity).
Let’s assume that there is indeed a negative externalityAn externality, in economics terms, is a side effect or consequence of an activity that is not reflected in the cost of that activity, and not primarily borne by those directly involved in said activity. Externalities can be caused by either production or consumption of a good or service and can be positive or negative. from obesity, and that obesity should be taxed. Remember – obesity is the problem here according to these fat taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. advocates. It’s not the soda itself. It’s the attribute of the soda making you fat that’s the problem for society.
So why then is taxing an arbitrarily selected product the ideal way of targeting obesity? Why not target obesity directly? Why should a guy who eats a salad but then watches 10 hours of television pay less in taxes than the guy who drinks a Coke every time he goes out for a 5-mile jog?
The proper way of taxing obesity is to have every person on a tax return in America report his/her age, weight and height on a 1040 form each year. There would be an appropriate tax schedule (determined by the CDC) that is based upon how far one’s BMI deviates from the ideal. It really wouldn’t be that hard as it would be subject to random audits like any income reporting; and the government could even check medical records.
This is the type of policy that the CDC chief truly wants. (If not, then he’s not very concerned about obesity.) He just doesn’t want to tell you that this is the type of America he envisions. His goal is to gradually go after product by product that he has deemed unhealthy until the public becomes more willing to tax obesity directly. That’s the problem with most public health “experts.” Their worldview is one where people should maximize their health only and that their view should be imposed on everyone. You like ice cream? Too bad. It’s not healthy.
I think the poem on the Statue of Liberty needs to be re-written:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to have what they eat determined by a government agency that is supposed to be concerned with true public health problems like flu outbreaks…