Governments continue the perpetual war in Oceania, Eastasia, or Eurasia—for us, tobacco, plastics, and soda—in order to keep the people distracted and to justify their own jobs. It seems that every election cycle, another major city floats a soda tax as a do-good measure to improve public health. I saw it almost happen in New York and then actually become law in Philadelphia, and it followed me out to San Francisco in 2016 (Prop V). A good public health crisis is always around the corner, and the soda industry is a great enemy; what is a hero politician without an arch-nemesis?
Despite all this, in a rare pro-freedom move, the state legislature begrudgingly agreed last year to pass a bill banning cities from passing new taxes on sugary beverages, under pressure from soda industry lobbyists. Now, they are preparing to get political revenge for that embarrassment by introducing statewide bills which would do little to benefit public health and much more to advance their own political posture.
Of course, they market these as noble moves to protect innocent and unwitting consumers from the evil soda industry, but what does that really mean?
Ideas that have been floated so far include restricting the size of sugary drinks sold in unsealed containers to 16oz, labeling sugary drinks with a warning about health risks, prohibiting stores from displaying soda drinks near checkout counters, ending promotional deals, and of course a good old fashioned tax on sugary drinks, probably to the tune of $0.02 an ounce.
They claim they just want to help, because the commoners don’t know what’s good for them. It’s not about raising money or virtue signaling to their base, it’s an honest effort to solve the crisis facing our poor communities.
“We’re not saying that people can’t guzzle all the liquid sugar they want through 16-ounce containers. They can do that,” says David Chiu, D-San Francisco.
"And you can legally still buy sodas under any of the bills that were introduced today," Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, said. "We're not taking them off the shelves, we’re saying, 'Informed choice.'"
So you’re still free to be as fat and stupid as you like, you’ll just have to work around the government rules and pay a little extra out of pocket.
What all these proposals boil down to, though, is that you are in fact too stupid to make decisions for yourself, so the government has an obligation to step in to nudge your behavior in the right direction. And we’ll applaud them for taking the initiative!
But is political action inspired by revenge really what the public needs or wants? New taxes and regulations only serve to restrict freedom by limiting your options, even if those options are not necessarily what’s best for you. There are plenty of things that are bad for you, though-- why put the impetus on sugary drinks? Because it’s politically convenient, that’s why.
Perhaps the worst part of these schemes is that they sort of work! No, there hasn’t been any legitimate evidence that the “crisis” is solved, but studies find that people do drink less soda. And why wouldn’t they? It’s simply the law of demand.
For a little thought experiment, if you buy a 12 pack of soda in Berkeley today which the store sells for $5.00, you’ll end up paying an additional 9.25% in sales tax, $0.60 for the CRV and $1.44 for the sugary beverage tax ($0.01 per ounce). That comes out to $7.50 after tax, an effective tax rate of 50%! Tack another $0.02 per ounce on top of that and you’re looking at a whopping 125% tax rate.
What are all these taxes and regulations doing for you other than making your life more difficult and expensive? It’s time to tell the politicians that we can decide what’s best for ourselves. Of course, that would mean that their jobs aren’t quite as important as they would like us to believe.