In an effort to trim the fat from the state budget (due April 1), Governor David Paterson is proposing a number of new regressive taxes, including one on soda. This isn’t really a bad idea, since soda is a popular product with fairly inelastic demand, and a relatively modest tax will provide a steady flow of revenue.
Unless people drink diet soda. It turns out this brilliant plan to close the budget gap is not ostensibly intended to raise money. No, no, Albany is kindly worried about my health1. This new tax on non-diet soda is intended to keep the fat fatsos who populate New York2 from being so fucking fat.
There are a couple of problems with this. First, tax policy is neither an effective nor a proper technique for shaping behavior. Taxation is not an end run around freedom. Taxes are how the government raises money, nothing more
Second, the direct connection between weight and health is probably bullshit, and studies supporting it are typically produced by (unconsciously) biased researchers. Not all fat folks are unhealthy, and being fat doesn’t make you (or anyone) unhealthy. Many people who acknowledge this counter that being fat doesn’t cause illness but constitutes it. This is a complete departure from what constitutes physical illness in most other contexts.
Third, soda doesn’t make you fat. Researchers are regularly discovering hormones, enzymes, or viruses that are implicated in weight.
Fatness is not a crime, and it’s not an expense, and a recession is the last time we should be using taxes to shape people’s lifestyle habits.
1Well, not my health, because I’ve largely stopped drinking soda, but other people’s health.
2And who populate New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, or Vermont and work in New York, and who follow the Canadiens or Maple Leafs or Senators3 to HSBC Arena, and who come as tourists, and. . . .
3I don’t know where Ottowa is.