Here’s a proposal: why not institute a tax on fast food to discourage its consumption and offset the medical expenses of obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, etc. in the same way we currently tax tobacco products?
Normally I believe LESS government is a good thing. We’re better off when we let the free market forces work uninhibited and keep the role of government to the most minimal scaffolding necessary to keep life civil. But as it stands now we already use taxation to deal with substances that have harmful effects on our bodies. We realized at some point that the tobacco companies were extracting massive wealth from the population and leaving behind polluted, illness-prone bodies, the cost of which was borne by the public. So we shifted some of that financial burden to them in the form of tobacco taxes, and in so doing, not only generated revenue to cope with the problem (cure) but also deterred consumption through higher prices (prevention).
If we determine that eating a Big Mac every day has similar health consequences to smoking a pack of cigarettes per day why would we not use economic incentives to address it?
So far the hurdles and objections I can fathom are:
- Aversion to more regulation: People don’t want government to tell them what to eat. It’s a personal choice. And agreed that it’s little odd to think about assigning this almost parental-type role to government.
- Aversion to more taxation: Most people don’t want more taxes of any kind.
- Different opinions on nutrition: The FDA got the food pyramid exactly upside down the first time around so it’s hard to see them getting a more complex program such as this right.
- Lobbying: MacDonald’s would be none too happy about this and they would surely put up a fight. The “healthy eating” lobby (if one exists) wields nowhere near the political power of the major fast food chains – it would be a tough battle to turn this into law.
- Socioeconomic bias: It could be easily argued that this tax would be paid disproportionately more by the lower class, the very ones who can’t afford it.
But if we could:
a) realize that we’re already using this exact strategy with tobacco.
b) recognize that we’re already bearing the costs of others’ poor eating choices through a Medicare deduction on every paycheck and funding a program that spends a good amount on illnesses caused by bad eating habits.
c) get a panel of independent nutritionists and economists to architect a plan that taxes based on saturated fat or some other measure of a food’s detrimental health effects.
d) slice through the lobbying issue by putting this up for a popular vote. Put the plan itself on a wiki for max transparency and solicit the collaborative input of many.
e) set up a program whereby food stamps count double on vegetables, fruits and other non-processed items so the lower class has an immediate healthy and affordable food option.
…that would be a step in the right direction. Tax revenues from the program would be split between educational campaigns on nutrition and paying down the single largest debt obligation we have, Medicare. You’d start to see menus at fast food restaurants naturally gravitate towards less-processed foods. Instead of letting large fast food chains get away with strip mining our nation’s largest natural resource (millions of people) while leaving behind diseased bodies for someone else to deal with, they would be forced to either start serving healthier foods or to bear the true costs of their business.
Would you vote for such a tax if it were on a ballot? If not, explain your rationale. How could it be modified to be more effective AND more palatable to voters?