Wednesday 23 July 2014

Soda tax chumps

If, like me, you smile inwardly every time a moron uses the term 'Big Soda', you've got a treat in store. In November, the city of San "Ban" Francisco will be voting on whether to bring in a punitively high tax on fizzy drinks. That means four months of deranged campaigning in the Bay Area to look forward to.

As an hors d'oeuvre, check out the Choose Health SF website. Its blog and FAQ sections offer particularly good sport. Anybody with a rational mind left San Francisco years ago, leaving a population of quacks, hypochondriacs, drug casualties and champagne socialists. It shows. There is barely a sentence on this website that does not rely, at best, on logical fallacies. More commonly, it relies on bizarre assertions and free association.

For example, it is well known that indirect taxes are regressive (ie. they take a larger share of income from the poor than from the rich). It also seems to be the case that people on low incomes tend to drink more fizzy drinks than people on high incomes. Taxing these drinks is therefore indisputably regressive, but in the world of Public Health—especially in California—words mean whatever you want them to mean:

Isn't this just a regressive tax that will further hurt people with low incomes?

A: Spending millions to aggressively market cheap sodas to low-income communities—which are most impacted by the diabetes epidemic—is regressive. 

No it isn't. That's not what it means at all. Try using a dictionary.

Soda companies sell sugary drinks at artificially low prices and then pour billions into marketing to get people to drink more and more. That is regressive.

No it isn't—and any company selling something at an 'artificially low price' (whatever that means) whilst spending billions on marketing would go out of business. Soda is expensive. Tap water isn't. Drink that and shut the hell up.

Elsewhere, the valiant supporters of regressive taxation address the slippery slope argument. This is particularly delicious since San Francisco has for decades been at the centre of many novel anti-smoking policies that have—despite the assurances of wide-eyed campaigners—subsequently been applied to other products. It is more than likely that some of the parents of the soda tax campaigners were making assurances in the 1980s about tobacco being a 'unique product' while insisting that anti-smoking policies would never be applied to things like, well, soda.

Won't you just try to tax other things that are unhealthy for us if this soda tax passes? Why not tax jelly donuts and other fattening foods?

A: The beverage industry likes to argue that if you can’t solve every health problem, don’t bother trying to solve any health problem.

That's not their argument here. The argument is that if you tax soda, you'll tax anything with a high calorie content next.

The fact is that sugary beverages are a unique and significant cause of diabetes and other diseases.

But anti-smoking campaigners said that tobacco was a 'unique' cause of disease and scoffed at the notion that anti-smoking policies were the thin end of the wedge. Why should we believe you this time? Why should we think you will stop at soda?

Would anyone ever argue that we shouldn’t tax cigarettes since there are other causes of lung cancer? 

That's right folks. They're arguing that soda taxes won't set a precedent for other products by citing tobacco as a precedent for soda taxes. It's the next logical step, innit?

Informed observers on both sides of the sin tax debate believe that a no vote in San Francisco could kill off soda taxes worldwide. Their reasoning is that if the stoned bunnies of the Bay Area don't vote for it, no one will. I think they have a point so watch this space.


Curmudgeon said...

A collection of obfuscation and diversion worthy of Ed Balls!

JohnB said...

The current moralizing, foaming-at-the-mouth zealot nut cases are just like their predecessors, e.g., mid-1800s to pre-WWII America. It’s a constant agitating fear and hate-mongering.

But, the current nut cases have “learnt” one thing beyond their fanatical predecessors. Don’t go straight for prohibition. Always begin with advocating increasing taxes. There’s money to be made. Shallow governments (and there are plenty of those) are receptive to easy tax revenue. If governments really want to, they just need to cite the zealots’ “arguments” and that something drastic needs to be done to address a “catastrophic” problem. The zealots can then plead their case that they should attract a percentage of the tax to further “educate” the public (and keep themselves in comfortable employment). Zealots can now make an entire career from constant foaming at the mouth and spittle flicking, and with plenty of five-star conferences and awards nights thrown in. It’s a racket that “targeted users” are forced to finance.

Jonathan Bagley said...

Blimey, I thought our local government was full of retards and nutters. No wonder Texas wants independence.

Geoff Cliff said...

Let's just hope that the Bay Area residents have the good sense to tell the would-be legislators to just soda off! Someone, somewhere, must be able to bring an end to this lunacy.

Fred Titmus said...

By using the word 'regressive' to refer to taxation that hits poor people hardest, it implies that taxation that is aimed at rich people is 'PROgressive'.

There are a lot of words that could be used to describe 'redistibutive taxation' (thievery, immoral, jealousy etc.) but progress it sure as hell ain't.