A senator once started a speech to his colleagues by saying, “I don’t mean to tax your memories...”
Before he could continue, another senator jumped out of his seat and exclaimed, “We hadn’t thought of that!”
Something similar happened in Washington recently. Men’s Health magazine interviewed President Obama. It asked about a special tax on soda pop. “I actually think it’s an idea that we should be exploring,” replied Obama. “There’s no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda.”
Up to now, I wasn’t aware that the commander-in-chief was keeping tabs on what children drink. I thought that was the job of parents.
Obama’s comments nevertheless generated a lot of fizz. The governor of New York and the mayor of San Francisco have pushed their own soda-pop tax proposals.
Many supporters of these proposed taxes see them primarily as a way to discourage the drinking of soda pop. They believe that making these products more expensive will force Americans to drink less of them.
Others view a soda-pop tax as a special source of new revenue for the government’s health-care spending or its anti-obesity programs.
One thing is certain: These goals are mutually exclusive. If the soda-pop tax is supposed to decrease consumption, then it’s an unreliable source of revenue. If it’s an essential source of revenue, then it will require high levels of consumption.
You might say that supporters of the soda-pop tax can’t drink their Coke and have it too.
When Obama expressed an interest in taxing soda pop, he portrayed it as a health initiative: “If you wanted to make a big impact on people’s health in this country, reducing things like soda consumption would be helpful.”
So would a reduction in the consumption of the candy that trick-or-treaters collected on Halloween. And a reduction in the consumption of Twinkies. And Captain Crunch. And on and on and on.
Where will this crusade stop?
The editor-in-chief of Men’s Health, David Zinczenko, was so excited by the notion of a soda-pop tax that he took to the pages of USA Today and called for something more ambitious: a war on American farmers. “It’s time to fight back against the corn peddlers who are making our children fat,” he wrote.
I’ve always thought of myself as a corn “grower,” not a corn “peddler.” Zinczenko makes us sound like drug dealers.
His anger at corn farmers comes from the fact that many food companies use a corn-based sugar, also known as high-fructose corn syrup, as an ingredient. Among varieties of sweetener, HFCS is really no different from other sugars, such as the kind that’s processed from cane or beets. It just comes from corn.
But does it make Americans fat? Among those who engorge themselves on too much fatty food, the answer is “yes.” For this small minority of people, moderation is a key to health.
The problem of obesity, however, is more complicated than the consumption of too much soda pop or HFCS. A new tax won’t solve anything.
Almost 95 percent of the typical American’s calorie intake comes from sources other than soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened bottled water, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Raising the price of these products through taxation--which would have a regressive effect on the poorest Americans during the worst economy of our lifetimes, by the way--won’t eliminate the challenge of obesity.
Instead, Americans should exercise more. The Centers for Disease Control report that 60 percent of Americans are not regularly active and 25 percent are not active at all.
Why so much inactivity? Well, Americans are watching record levels of television. Earlier this year, the Nielsen Company reported that Americans watch 151 hours of television per month. Spread across 12 months, that’s more than more than 75 days per year.
Clearly, many Americans choose to watch too much television. Should we have a boob-tube tax, too? Or should this activity remain a tax-free choice beyond the reach of nanny-state regulators?
Maybe it’s best not even to mention the TV tax. Politicians in Washington will wonder why they didn’t think of it sooner. Some people are just sweet on taxes.
Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and grains in Northwest Iowa. This fourth generation family farm has been involved in specialty crop production and identity preservation for over 20 years. Mr. Horan volunteers as a Truth About Trade & Technology Board member. www.truthabouttrade.org