A tax on soda

Raj Patel

Bob Moon: The weight of the world rests upon the United Nations, as the General Assembly continues its meetings in New York. So far, we've heard speeches on the the Arab Spring and the global economy.

But there are other pressing topics getting attention -- such as soda pop. More than that, of course: What should the U.N.'s response be to the obesity epidemic? Costly health consequences are on the rise, in countries rich and poor.

Commentator Raj Patel says there's a way to curb the crisis, but it requires a coordinated push.

Raj Patel: Bigger isn't always better. By 2030, half of Americans won't just be overweight, but obese. By then, nearly a fifth our health care dollars will be spent treating the diseases that come with being bigger. Our lifestyles -- rich in fat, sugar and inactivity -- are creating a debt that will become the planet's most expensive public health issue.

So what to do? One battle centers on how to make us better eaters, and especially, better drinkers. Half of the sugar in U.S. diets comes from sweetened beverages. Advocates of what gets called a soda tax look like they've got a justification for their case. Tax the sugar in the drink and the consumption goes down, right? Well yes, but a study from Northwestern University recently found that overweight people prefer diet drinks. You can almost hear the soda industry snickering.

But this ought not make us give up on the idea of taxation in the name of public health. Think about tobacco. A dollar tax on a pack of cigarettes makes some people smoke less, but that's not the only thing that we've done to curb smoking. We have changed regulation to target not just cigarettes, but anything containing tobacco. We limited marketing to children. We've confronted the companies who profit from tobacco with a coherent public health push, and made them pay for their ill-gotten gains.

So why can't taxes together with other ideas work with sugar? One in three kids born in America today will develop some form of diabetes, one in two kids of color. A meaningful soda tax -- say a penny per ounce on sugary drinks -- is an important part of a bigger policy strategy. We can, for example, take back the billions we spend subsidizing commodity and processed food production, and gives it to those most harmed by these products. This isn't the nanny state -- as much as it is a response to the wild excesses of the market. Just leveling the playing field back away from big food, so we'll have fewer big people.

Moon: Raj Patel is the author of "The Value of Nothing." We always highly value your comments. Send 'em in -- Write to us.

Log in to post7 Comments

If you want the price of soda to go up, stop subsidising corn.

I think this train of thought is on theright track, but not necessarily the right conclusion. Instead of raising taxes on sugar (which is minimal in soda production anyway), reduce the subsidies on corn. Corn syrup is a greater contributor to obesity than table sugar ever could hope to be. Meanwhile, corn farmers are poorer and poorer every year, contributing to growing unemployment.

Oh, yeah. The Feds now subsidize the farmers growing this stuff that's harming us to the tune of $billions per year - CALPIRG has a report on it - "So how much is America spending? Enough for each U.S. taxpayer to buy 19 Twinkies a year, according to the report. In comparison, it said, federal subsidies for fresh produce would cover only a few bites of an apple per taxpayer a year."

Oh, please. Taxing sugary drinks? What about orange juice? Apple juice? Those are sugary drinks.

People are fat because they eat too much and don't get any exercise. This will do nothing. People will simply switch to a diet drink with their burger and super-sized fries.

If we pulled health care out of the control of employers and established a true open market for health insurance, then rates would adjust to individual risk factors - overweight people would then have to pay more. Some might even adapt a more healthy lifestyle as a result. Probably not, but at least they'll be paying their fare share.

This is a brilliant essay on the value of looking at the source of the obesity epidemic. A soda tax is one of many approaches we need to take is we all don't want to pay the price of higher healthcare costs.

Raj Patel is the only rational voice in the modern world of economics. He is SOOooo far ahead of the other short-sighted economists. Please have him on your show more often ! (and less from the manipulatist David Frum please. )

With Generous Support From...