Tax Analysts Blog

Soda Taxes and the Case for a GOP Majority

Posted on Nov 5, 2012
Soda taxes are one of those ideas that makes me want to be a Republican. They give substance to the (generally baseless) charge that liberals want a nanny state.

Every sin tax makes sense to someone. In theory, we could craft millions of tiny little taxes to compensate for every "market failure" we manage to uncover. But that's impractical, so instead we pick and choose a few sin taxes that we find especially appealing.

But seriously: What's the deal with singling out soda for a special tax but leaving Pop Tarts (etc.) untaxed? That's ridiculous. And don't tell me there's research supporting the uniquely evil role of sugary sodas; that tells me something about research funding and grant opportunities but nothing about tax policy.

Plus, these taxes are hugely regressive. Poor people get screwed. And don't tell me that poor people are suffering disproportionately from the obesity epidemic. There's a class-based paternalism lurking behind that argument that I find really offensive. And ultimately, it's just an excuse for taxing the people who are least able to pay and telling them it's all for their own good.

If you really hate obesity, than at least go after the real culprit and develop a calorie tax of some sort (not that I would like that either, but at least it would be intellectually consistent). Because food-specific taxes are just arbitrary and heavy handed.

Seriously, this is the kind of gratuitous, do-good policy "innovation" that give taxes (and liberals) a bad name.

Read Comments (1)

Matthew HancockNov 5, 2012

I agree it is pointless to tax (or ban) a specific product for what it is. A consumption tax that also impacts unhealthy food could be easily implemented.
It could also have negative tax rates (subsidies) on healthier food. There is no point to have a tax on essential items unless the tax code makes it either
more progressive or unchanged. The tax code should incentivize policies in the national interest while collecting revenue in a progressive way. In this case
if we include externalities of eating unhealthy (medical costs, etc.) in the cost of food that is a good thing - as long as healthier food is more
affordable.

As a liberal/Democrat, I fail to see how this makes the case for a GOP majority however. I don't think we're any more likely to implement bad policy on this
issue.

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