Flat tax proposals haven't gotten much traction, but you'll soon be hearing more about "fat tax" proposals. New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman is proposing that sweetened drinks be "taxed at 2 cents per ounce, so a six-pack of Pepsi would cost $1.44 more than it does now. An equivalent tax on fries might be 50 cents per serving; a quarter extra for a doughnut."
As is usual, progressive Europe is leading the way. Denmark has added taxes on fatty dairy products and Hungary this month is introducing a "hamburger tax." Finland is likely to push beyond its existing taxes on "sugar-laced food." According to The Globe and Daily Mail in Canada, a "160-page Swedish economists' report for the finance ministry recommends a 'calorie-driven' tax for its ability to 'influence consumer preferences.' . . . A main justification in the report is that Swedes weigh on average 8 percent more than in the 1970s. Double as many teenage Swedes were said to be overweight than in the 1980s." There goes the Swedish Bikini Team.
What should we think about this? Since we can hardly be trusted to do our own thinking, thank goodness for think tanks. A study released in 2009 by the Urban Institute and the University of Virginia claimed that a 10 percent excise or sales tax on fattening foods could corral $522 billion over the next decade. And think of a 20 percent tax: Could be $937 billion. Wow: two birds, one stone-less fat on individuals, more fat for government.
What about freedom? The Los Angeles Times raises the question but then has the answer: "If an individual's body mass index isn't a purely personal matter, what is? We have the right to choose between healthy food or junk food, even if the latter is more likely to result in obesity and related health problems. But once our choices affect others, there's a natural conflict between individual freedom and social responsibility. In a nation where rising healthcare costs and diminished access to medical care are issues of grave concern, personal decisions are no longer strictly private."
Hmm. If that type of thinking spreads, Mark Bittman may be right to note that once fat taxes come in "the scenario for such a tax spreading could be similar to that of legalized gambling: once the income stream becomes apparent, it will seem irresistible to cash-strapped governments." And if we were to follow the gambling scenario we'd soon see government commercials asking us to consume more fat and sugar, in a way similar to the commercials now for buying lottery tickets.
But even if we were spared those, why stop at fat? Let's tax white rice more than brown rice and white bread more than rye. Better yet, why let people shop at all? In a few years we'll be able to go the government food distribution office and get our rations for the week, precisely measured out for our weight.