The headline reads, “Don’t tax my soda! Study shows consumers put choice first,” but what do we learn from it?
Well, first, the story says the survey was done online, which undercuts the survey’s legitimacy, if not blowing it from the water entirely. Respondents chose themselves, rather than being identified demographically in the hope that replies will reflect the larger population. This one has no such hope.
But even if: The entire perspective is skewed! Sugar-sweetened-beverage-tax opponents generally argue for market freedom, but they don’t really mean it. Sugary beverages are sweetened primarily with corn, whose cultivation is subsidized by our taxes. Without the support, sugary beverages and everything else with high fructose corn syrup would cost a lot more in the “free” marketplace. Those who cry freedom against taxes never cry about subsidies, do they?
The question is — and this is where the “freedom” riders get their backs up — is there a collective, societal benefit to be achieved by using market forces to lower consumption of sugary beverages? Collective benefit? What next, the gulag?
But I say there is, by virtue of the collective, social cost of obesity — on shared healthcare costs, on national security, and more.
I do not say that sugary beverages are the sole cause of our nation’s rampant overweight. It would be much more complicated, but I would be OK with imposing duties on added sugar earlier in the production chain, so that it falls more broadly than just on sugary beverages.
What makes sugary soda a good place to begin is that it has very little redeeming quality. Consider a pizza, for example. No one would argue that eating pizza often is healthy. But its proponents can point out that pizza provides protein and vegetables, at least. Sugary soda’s best claim is “refreshment.”
Unquestionably, refined sugar is more pernicious than just as a soda ingredient; UNC researcher Barry Popkin says 80 percent of the 600,000 consumer food products sold in this country have added sugar. But change has to come, and there's no better place to start.