Feds Push Ineffective Soda Taxes

Aug 23, 2012

George Will’s latest column covers the federal government’s recent efforts to get Americans to drink less high-calorie drinks. It illustrates how the federal government often does too much and does it ineffectively.

Will documents the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program handing out millions of dollars to educate state and local policymakers about obesity, the “scourge of soda pop,” and how to sell new taxes on soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks. (Yes, the federal government pays state and local governments to promote new taxes.)

Last year, the Heritage Foundation’s Rob Bluey listed a number of anti-obesity campaigns across the country, some funded by CPPW.

Is “nutrition activism” such as soda taxes effective? Will says, “no”:

Not according to Michael L. Marlow, economics professor at California Polytechnic State University, and Sherzod Abdukadirov of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Writing in Regulation (“Can Behavioral Economics Combat Obesity?”), a quarterly publication of the libertarian Cato Institute, they powerfully question the assumptions underlying paternalistic policies such as using taxes to nudge individuals to make consumption choices that serve their real but unrecognized interests….”

Marlow and Abdukadirov looked at tax increases on alcohol and tobacco intended to reduce consumption and found that they “mostly decrease consumption by light users instead of heavy users.” The economists conclude that soda taxes would have a similar effect.

Reducing obesity is a good thing and should be encouraged. Americans would live healthier lives and put less of a burden on our health care system. But taxing and nudging people away from high-calorie food and drink haven’t been found to work. It’s simply ineffective government paternalism.

[H/T American Beverage Association]

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