In addition to a change in control of the Senate, Tuesday's election also saw voters in Berkeley, California, pass the nation's first soda tax. Some may dismiss the national significance of this since the average Berkeley voter is much more pro-tax and pro-nanny state than voters elsewhere. However, the anti-soda forces have been emboldened by this victory, and they have a lot more than 12% of a plan.
As Nancy Gagliardi points out in Forbes, the forces behind the war on soda are modeling their efforts on the successful war on tobacco. Like the anti-tobacco crusaders, the anti-soda nannies argue that government has a legitimate role in discouraging soda use since soda contributes to poor health, which contributes to rising health care costs.
Even if the link between soda and poor health outcomes is true, that does not justify soda taxes. For one thing, the new taxes may not discourage hard-core soda drinkers; instead, they will reduce their consumption of other products which may be healthier than sodas. Another reason why soda taxes lead to worse health is they further the idea that individuals are not responsible for the consequences of their own health choices. Instead, it is up to the government to "encourage" us to eat healthy and take care of us if our choices create health problems.
Of course, the notion that the government should have any role in our personal choices is incompatible with a free society.
This does not mean there are no steps the government can take to address unhealthy choices. First, ObamaCare and other federal programs that allow individuals to make the taxpayers bear their poor health care decisions should be repealed. Private charity can effectively address the needs of the poor without weakening individual responsibility for one's own health.
Secondly, the government can stop subsidizing unhealthy foods. Since government policies encourage Americans to eat unhealthy foods, the movement against soda is another example of how the unintended consequences of one government intervention in the marketplace can be used to justify further government interference with our lives.
Tags: nanny state, soda taxes