If you ever want to feel as though you’ve stepped into another country without actually crossing the border, Berkeley, California is a good place to start. This liberal oasis is hot off the heels of providing “pot for the poor,” and now they’re set to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The 1-cent-per-ounce tax will target soda, tea, energy drinks, juice, and any other beverages that include added sugar. A similar measure in San Francisco was defeated, giving you an idea of how liberal you have to be to support such a thing.
You wouldn’t commonly look to Berkeley as a template for the country, but this could indeed be a glimpse into what’s coming for the rest of America. As anti-obesity proponents look for ways to get the nation back into shape, a successful sin tax like this could prove appealing. It could also prove to be a tough sell; Americans don’t like to be told that groceries are about to go up in price. It is naturally a hand-in-glove fit for liberals, since, after all, it’s a tax.
The Rise of the Nanny State
This is one of those things where you have to go beyond “common sense.” It looks like a great idea on the surface, after all. We do have an enormous obesity problem in this country, our kids are getting fatter, and Coca-Cola and its competitors are little more than poison in a bottle. Sugary soda consumption is strongly linked to Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. So why wouldn’t we want to make it less attractive for American buyers?
First of all, no matter the economic benefits to such a tax, we have to stop and consider the method itself. Should government – local, state, or federal – be in the business of forcing behavioral changes through legislation? Michelle Obama’s school lunch program has been a failure for a number of reasons, but it would have been a pox on public schools even if it had been a “success.” When you let elitists in office decide which consumer products are “bad,” you begin to erode the foundations of freedom.
We already have liberals going as far as to ban 2-liter sodas altogether. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg took it upon himself to ban big bottles from New York City, only to have the ban rejected by the courts. Don’t think for a moment that we’ve seen the last of that kind of overreach. Sin taxes like the one imposed in Berkeley only make it easier for liberals to increase the authoritarian fist of government.
Even if you feel certain that Americans would stand arm-in-arm against outright bans on soda, there is the other problem with these taxes: they aren’t proven to work at all. While they’ll certainly add some weight to the Berkeley coffers, a University of Wisconsin study suggests that a soda tax would be unlikely to have any effect on obesity rates. People who can’t get their sugar from soda will just get it somewhere else. No one is brave enough to propose a tax on all sugary foods, so the effort is symbolic, unfair, and meaningless. No wonder liberals love it!