Green Room

Sin For Ye, “Pause That Refreshes” For We

posted at 6:47 am on July 29, 2009 by

The Obama Administration is borrowing a key tenet of his “Heathcare” strategy from an infamous Minnesota initiative from the 1990′s; “Soak the Addicts Who Don’t Have Clout”.

In 1998, the State of Minnesota and Blue Cross sued and won $6.1 Billion from “Big Tobacco” – which was, of course, passed on to “Big Tobacco’s” customers, aka “smokers”.

But that was safe, because smoking – and smokers – were indefensible.  So nobody defended them.

Of course, the to make money, the strategy depends on having a boundless supply of people with declasse addictions and problems – smokers, drinkers, and – as the LA Times informs us with breathless excitement – the overweight and obese.

When historians look back to identify the pivotal moments in the nation’s struggle against obesity, they might point to the current period as the moment when those who influenced opinion and made public policy decided it was time to take the gloves off.As evidence of this new “get-tough” strategy on obesity, they may well cite a study released today by the Urban Institute titled “Reducing Obesity: Policy Strategies From the Tobacco Wars.”In the debate over healthcare reform, the added cost of caring for patients with obesity-related diseases has become a common refrain: most recent is the cost-of-obesity study, also released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It finds that as obesity rates increased from 18.3% of Americans in 1998 to 25% in 2006, the cost of providing treatment for those patients’ weight-driven problems increased healthcare spending by $40 billion a year.If you happen to be the 1-in-3 Americans who is neither obese nor overweight (and, thus, considered at risk of becoming obese), you might well conclude that the habits of the remaining two-thirds of Americans are costing you, big time. U.S. life expectancies are expected to slide backward, after years of marching upward. (But that’s their statistical problem: Yours is how to make them stop costing you all that extra money because they are presumably making poor choices in their food consumption.)
To put it more accurately – “sin taxes” involve 51% of the people agreeing the habits, vices and infirmities of the other 49% are worth scourging and tapping for whatever revenue can be drained.The 2/3 of the nation that doesn’t smoke has voted to stick it to the other 1/3 of the people.  And now – as conservatives have been predicting for a decade – they’re sticking up the “overweight”.Because it’s really about the money. Because Hope and Change isn’t free:
[Taxes raised on "unhealthy" foods] would pay for a lot of healthcare reform, which some have estimated will cost as much as $1 trillion to implement over the next ten years.And here’s the payoff: Conservatively estimated, a 10% tax levied on foods that would be defined as “less healthy” by a national standard adopted recently in Great Britain could yield $240 billion in its first five years and $522 billion over 10 years of implementation — if it were to begin in October 2010. If lawmakers instituted a program of tax subsidies to encourage the purchase of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, the added revenue would still be $356 billion over 10 years.
In other words, government would decide which foods to “punish”, and which to “reward”.Pop – soda – being un-PC at the moment – will be taxed.  But coffee?  Being the beverage of choice of those bringing us the Hope and Change?Any guesses?:

Let’s be honest: the more affluent Americans will not feel the effect of a soda tax, nor that of the inevitable tax on fast-food purchases from McDonald’s, Burger King or Taco Bell…But let’s play along with the Ivory Tower bigwigs and self-appointed health gurus who are advocating the tax on “sugary” drinks as a means of off-setting the enormous costs of President Obama’s back-breaking health care initiative, as well as combating bad habits. Why stop at soda? How about a tax on every calorie-laden coffee drink served at Starbucks and its competitors? After all, a vanilla bean frappuccino with whipped cream is more than 500 calories, a beverage that health researcher Mike Adams calls “dessert in a cup.” Throw in a scone or brownie with one of those Starbucks “desserts” and a consumer is approaching, at mid-morning, the daily recommended calorie intake.

No knock against Starbucks, which I patronize, but it’s fairly inconceivable that either Congress or nutritionists would classify that chain’s offerings with the low-hanging taxable fruit of Pepsi and Coke. Taking this argument further: why aren’t the revenue seekers proposing slapping a “sin” tax on the following items that aren’t at all healthy (whether organic or not): butter, cream, eggs, bacon, corned beef, mayo, Godiva and Lindt chocolates, foie gras, triple-cream Brie, the entire dessert tray at a ritzy French restaurant, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, fried clams, squid, shrimp and oysters, entire menus at Chinese restaurants (both cheap and pricey) and fresh-squeezed orange juice? And maybe a tax credit ought to be awarded to those consumers who purchase olive oil instead of butter.

To add insult to injury; not only are “sin taxes” a way for the majority to punish the minority – they don’t work, either as revenue-generators or as societal behavior modification:

The consequences of the sin tax are often the very opposite of those intended by its designers. Rather than increasing revenue, the sin tax can reduce it. Rather than discouraging what are regarded as morally questionable behaviors, the sin tax can make them more appealing. Rather than reducing what are perceived to be internal costs of the sin, the sin tax can increase them and expand them to society as a whole.

The evidence that sin taxes are a failed policy approach is incontrovertible. According to a new report from the Mercatus Center, “taxes on sugar-sweetened soft drinks do not necessarily advance the overall public interest, may be regressive in nature, and hardly ever work as intended.” The bottom line, say researchers Richard Williams and Katelyn Christ, is that a convincing body of evidence tells us that boosting food and drink prices “is not sufficient to make ‘fat taxes’ a viable tool to lower obesity.” That’s because soft drinks are really a small portion of most people’s diets.

In short – sin taxes are a flop.  They drive down revenue, sap economic and personal freedom, and yet don’t affect behavior.  What they are is a handy way for those that are in charge in society to tell those that are not “there are gonna be some changes, here”.

Crossposted at Shot In The Dark and True North

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if they don’t affect behavior, why do they drive down revenue?

Phoenician on July 29, 2009 at 7:11 AM

Perhaps we should make a push to increase the individual tax liabilities of those who propose these “sin taxes” and those who voted for them in the first place?

Just a quick number crunch…

Mmmm, that’d be a whole lot of revenue.

coldwarrior on July 29, 2009 at 7:48 AM

Not only that, sugar does not cause obesity. There’s actually good evidence that obese people don’t eat any more than normal-weight people, too, as my 350 pound body and lunch of curry quinoa salad can attest.

Here’s the SCIENCE related to sugar and obesity, hat tip Junkfood Science

Traffic Tickets for Sugar

Being fat is politically incorrect. In our sexually-liberated society, it seems that fat has replaced promiscuity as a target of societal disapprobation. Even the language is the same. Where once-upon-a-time sexual immorality was considered self-indulgent, risky, and unnecessary, now eating freely is viewed that way.

I’m sick of being blamed for health care costs, denied insurance because I’m fat, and having everyone assume what my eating habits must be.

Is there someplace in the world where it’s safe to be fat?

conservativerepublicanhippie on July 29, 2009 at 9:20 AM

if they don’t affect behavior, why do they drive down revenue?

People modify their behavior, change addictions, or go to the black market (as has happened in Canada and Germany).

Mitch_Berg on July 29, 2009 at 9:58 AM

if they don’t affect behavior, why do they drive down revenue?

Phoenician on July 29, 2009 at 7:11 AM
—–
Sin-substitution. A “sin tax” on cigars drives people to cigarettes, not to stop smoking. Those who stop smoking often shift to eating candy or chips. Stimulates the mouth and fingers in a similar way, eh? Raise the tax on beer and people will head to wine coolers or hard lemonade.

Revenue falls because participation in the singled-out “sin” falls, but it’s not replaced by goodness and light.

Now, if they wanted to be smart, raising the tax on “all alcoholic beverages” or “all tobacco products” or “all beverages over X calories”…

Mew

(aside to Mitch Berg – don’t forget Jamba Juice and their ilk – got any idea how many calories are in a Jamba power coldbuster?)

acat on July 29, 2009 at 10:39 AM

Now, if they wanted to be smart, raising the tax on “all alcoholic beverages” or “all tobacco products” or “all beverages over X calories”…

Or… don’t raise it at all.

This is my new call to action, “STARVE THE BEAST, NOT THE PEOPLE!”

if you’re not familiar with the quote in question, the “beast” is government.

conservativerepublicanhippie on July 29, 2009 at 10:46 AM

Let me rephrase that last. I was not quoting, I was paraphrasing. Sorry for being inaccurate

I don’t remember the actual “starve the beast” quote, but in light of the daily compounding calls to tax anything politically uncorrect that is considered (although not necessarily proven to be) unhealthy, it seems to echo with “starve the people”.

Thus, “STARVE THE BEAST, NOT THE PEOPLE!”

conservativerepublicanhippie on July 29, 2009 at 10:59 AM

conservativerepublicanhippie on July 29, 2009 at 10:59 AM
—–
I like “starve the cancer” better, but yeah, I’m familiar with the concept.

From a pragmatic standpoint, there are still some services that are paid for by tax dollars that need to continue – so there are some taxes that need to be collected.

It’d be a lot simpler if the ijits in D.C. (or Springfield, IL) would just give up on the idea of using tax policy to modify behaviour, and instead tax all cash transactions over a certain minimum threshold.

Mew

acat on July 29, 2009 at 12:47 PM

I might be wrong, but don’t skinny people eat junk food too? So doesn’t that make this just another tax grab and not some sort of behaviour modification plan to save the fat from themselves?

So I propose that only fat people pay the Fat Tax; and just to show who is “officially” fat as defined by the government and has to pay the Fat Tax, they’ll have to wear yellow cheeseburger cutouts prominently displayed on their outerware. Does everyone agree?

andycanuck on July 29, 2009 at 1:17 PM

might be wrong, but don’t skinny people eat junk food too? So doesn’t that make this just another tax grab and not some sort of behaviour modification plan to save the fat from themselves?
andycanuck on July 29, 2009 at 1:17 PM

Yes, but that’s the justification they are using for the tax. It’s a politically correct tax grab…

Taxing poor people = bad
Taxing poor people who eat junk food = good

And I wouldn’t joke about taxing fat people and making them wear cheeseburger cutouts (no matter how apt the comparison is to another “leader” who wanted to mold his people into an ideal) considering that law introduced in Mississippi (?) by a state legislator barring “obese” people from all-you-can-eat buffets and “unhealthy” restaurants. He did it knowing it would never pass, and there were a lot of jokes about scales at the door of McDonalds. Once the idea is introduced, it becomes less outlandish through familiarity. This is the same path that other ideas have taken…

This pattern seems eerily familiar.

1)Identify an enemy (fat people, smokers, Jews)
2)Claim that enemy is the reason for current distress, such as high health care costs. This is working if you read the comments on a lot of stories, people who are “normal” sized openly gripe about paying for “obesity” costs
3)Demonize the enemy
4)Restrict the enemy with popular support

conservativerepublicanhippie on July 29, 2009 at 2:04 PM

Perhaps we should make a push to increase the individual tax liabilities of those who propose these “sin taxes” and those who voted for them in the first place?

Just a quick number crunch…

Mmmm, that’d be a whole lot of revenue.

coldwarrior on July 29, 2009 at 7:48 AM

Let me refine what you’re saying so you can write us a nice post about it.

“If your congressional vote results in a long-term positive outcome for the Country – Good; if the result is worse than the state of the issue – prepare to pay.

ericdijon on July 29, 2009 at 2:34 PM

This post has been promoted to HotAir.com.

Comments have been closed on this post but the discussion continues here.

Ed Morrissey on July 30, 2009 at 11:37 AM