That new soda tax in Seattle is working out about as well as Chicago's

Men of the West! The day may come when state or municipal governments impose a tax on sweetened beverages which functions perfectly as intended. But it is not this day!

Another year, another soda tax. This one was shoved through in the city of Seattle by the municipal government. As usual, its purported intent was to improve the health and lives of residents by “modifying their behavior” and having them drink fewer sugary beverages. And it’s definitely a muscular incentive for new behavior to be sure. The price of soda has nearly doubled overnight. Seattle residents must be feeling healthier already! (CW33)

Soda lovers are crying carbonated tears!

Turns out, a soda tax went into affect in Seattle and people are not drinking the Kool-Aid on this one.

Mega-chain Costco isn’t feeling the surge either and put in big black numbers how much the new tax is costing their customers. Not only that, they’re putting signs next to the price display that tells shoppers where they can get their fizz fix outside the city!

As noted in the article, in one of the more creative and admirable moves by a retail chain in recent memory, Costco took to changing their price signs, showing how much the beverages should cost, and then tacking on the new tax as a separate line item.

The city government appears to have been caught totally off guard by the visceral response from consumers. The majority opinion out on the streets seems to be that shoppers will be heading outside the city to shop. And considering the fact that a case of soda has now increased in price by enough to more than pay for the gas, perhaps they’ll just do all of their shopping there. Talk about behavioral modification!

CATO highlighted a Twitter thread from Scott Drenkard of the Tax Foundation, calling on these anti-sugar warriors to at least make some effort to get their story straight.

  • “First they interview people at the Costco who are rightfully shocked at how high prices on soda and sports drinks are now (they are almost doubled).”
  • “Then they interview a public health advocate who says ‘that’s right! We want these prices to change people’s behavior and slow sales!’”
  • “Then they talk to the consumer, ‘think you’ll change your behavior, maybe even shop somewhere else?’ And she’s like, ‘ya the Tukwila store is close enough.’ Then they ask a city council member if this will hurt local biz, who says ‘there is no data’ suggesting that.”
  • “Then the SAME public health advocate says that people won’t respond to price increases, shopping elsewhere because it isn’t ‘worth their while.’”
  • “You can’t have it both ways people! The tax is either big enough to elicit behavior change, which would slow sales and hurt local biz and potentially reduce calories, or it isn’t. Get your stories straight!”

This is yet another example of the theory of the frog in a boiling pot of water. People are used to having their taxes increased if they live in cities run by Democrats. It’s just a fact of life. And if you increase the tax slowly over time, let’s say by twenty cents per year, many of them will adapt to it. (That’s how they did it with tobacco in most places.) But if you literally double the price overnight, that horse is going to buck.

Seattle hasn’t run into the same constitutional issues that the Chicago soda tax was brought down by, but the level of failure here is just as massive. The original, stated goal was to have people drink less soda, thereby improving their health. But your average consumer doesn’t enjoy being treated like a mouse in a laboratory experiment. Provide them with enough information to make an informed choice and you might achieve the desired result. But raising the price of something they want to the point where only the wealthy can afford it isn’t going to elicit any cooperation.

Of course, the underlying reason for the tax is to raise more money for the city’s coffers. Now, with shoppers heading out of town to buy soda (and probably a lot of other groceries as well), Seattle is seeing what Chicago experienced in the early days of their short-lived soda tax. People are still drinking soda, so there’s no health improvement. But they’re not buying it in the city so the hoped-for revenue surge doesn’t happen. Plus, grocery stores begin losing business, so their tax revenue contribution goes down and some of them may even have to begin laying off workers.

It’s a win-win for liberalism! But sadly, not so much for everyone else.