From a news item published by Reuters on March 8, 2010:
U.S. researchers estimate that an 18 percent tax on pizza and soda can push down U.S. adults’ calorie intake enough to lower their average weight by 5 pounds (2 kg) per year.
That’s a $1.80 on a $10.00 pizza, folks:
With two-thirds of Americans either overweight or obese, policymakers are increasingly looking at taxing as a way to address obesity on a population level.
California and Philadelphia have introduced legislation to tax soft drinks to try to limit consumption.
[Centers for Disease Control] director Dr. Thomas Frieden supports taxes on soft drinks, as does the American Heart Association.
These guys are serious:
In a commentary, Drs. Mitchell Katz and Rajiv Bhatia of the San Francisco Department of Public Health said taxes are an appropriate way to correct a market that favors unhealthy food choices over healthier options.
They argued that the U.S. government should carefully consider food subsidies that contribute to the problem.
“Sadly, we are currently subsidizing the wrong things including the product of corn, which makes the corn syrup in sweetened beverages so inexpensive,” they wrote.
Instead, they argued that agricultural subsidies should be used to make healthful foods such as locally grown vegetables, fruits and whole grains less expensive.
Forget for the moment that the main reason corn sweetener is so ubiquitous isn’t that government meddling has made it too cheap, but that government meddling (in the form of tariffs and quotas) has made sugar too expensive (but that’s ok because sugar is bad, right?). What these guys are really talking about is “sin taxes,” meaning taxes levied on things the government has decided are bad for you. I found this comment in the Boston College Law Journal on the effect of sin taxes to be particularly insightful:
Sin taxes–traditionally levied on alcohol and tobacco–are inherently regressive and disproportionately burden the poor…. In recent years, a new class of sin taxes has reached deeper into popular culture than ever before, confusing the basic role of the tax system with the improper role of government as social engineer. [T]he use of new sin taxes must be curbed in order to protect the political and socio-economic minorities who consistently face a disproportionate burden under every new sin tax.
And just in case you thought this kind of tax scheme is all about public physical health, and not government fiscal health, this item appeared on the same page as the Reuters item quoted above:
The color of money may soon turn a new shade of green as U.S. states across the country consider legalizing and then taxing marijuana to cure chronic budget problems.
Tax pizza and soft drinks as a way to limit their consumption? Fine. Make marijuana legal because it can be source of government revenue? Dandy. What better way for our government to use the power to tax than as a way to control unhealthy behavior, except when permitting unhealthy behavior will increase tax revenue?
PROTESTING THE PROLIFERATION OF OBNOXIOUS SANDWICH SHOPS
Where else but Berkeley? This item appeared on the web site of the San Jose Mercury News on February 26, 2010:
[B]y about 1:30 a.m., people began to clash with police, throwing bottles, setting trash ablaze and breaking several windows on Telegraph, including the plate-glass front windows of a Subway sandwich shop, police said. Protesters lit a large garbage container on fire, then rolled it into the street.
A video of the protest from ABC7 News shows police in riot gear clashing with protesters, hitting some of them with batons. Two Berkeley police officers received minor injuries from thrown objects, which included a fire extinguisher, fire hydrant cap, rocks and bottles, Berkeley police spokesman Andrew Frankel said.
….According to a UC news release, Goodrich, a UC Berkeley student, was charged with obstructing a peace officer, inciting a riot and assaulting a peace officer and is being held on $32,500 bail. Miller, who was a UC Berkeley student last semester but is not registered this semester, faces three charges, including inciting a riot and obstructing an officer. He is being held on $22,500 bail.
A protest leader… defended the vandalism and said rioters targeted the sandwich shop because a second Subway is scheduled to open on campus, just across Bancroft Way.
“There will be two Subways within 100 feet of each other,” she said.
Now that’s what I call vigilante land use enforcement. You can’t let those sandwich purveyors take over the neighborhood, after all. When a really obnoxious land use like that is threatening your peaceful enjoyment of your town, you simply must take matters into your own hands, right?
To be fair, the students were also apparently protesting planned budget cuts at UC Berkeley. That’s not why they targeted the Subway shop, however. Something tells me the vandalism wasn’t motivated solely by the protesters’ objections to the particular land use that they targeted. That’s just a hunch on my part.