Keep Uncle Sam out of my shopping cart
Feb. 6, 2012
by Ivan Raconteur

When the government doesn’t like something, its first reaction is to declare war.

As a result, taxpayers have been footing the bill for wars on drugs, terror, poverty, and now, if some people get their way, we could be paying to fight a war on food.

The latest target has emerged because people don’t always eat what is good for them, or perhaps, more to the point, they often eat things that are not good for them.

According to some US health experts, sugar is as damaging and addictive as alcohol or tobacco, and should be regulated.

One way to do this, according to some people, would be to impose a sugar tax.

This is not a new idea. Other countries have already imposed taxes on such evil substances as saturated fat and soft drinks.

The current agitation among some in the medical community has come about because worldwide consumption of sugar has tripled in the last half-century.

This may be a factor in the increased incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, and that is bad.

However, demonizing a single food or category of food is not likely to solve the problem. That kind of approach has not been very successful in the past.

It has even been suggested by some sensible observers that taxing unhealthy foods could unintentionally produce the opposite of the desired result.

Increasing the cost of these “unhealthy” foods could cause some people to cut back on fruits and vegetables (which are typically more expensive) to save money to buy the unhealthy things they really want.

Some say that kind of trade-off is already part of the problem.

So, before we fly off the handle and start declaring war on sugar, fat, salt, or some other villain du jour, maybe we should step back and think about what we are trying to accomplish.

If convincing people to adopt a more salubrious diet is our goal, it may make sense to educate the public about the benefits of such a diet.

What doesn’t make sense is trying to tax people into a certain course of action.

That would make Uncle Sam fatter, but it would not make citizens eat any better.

The only places taxpayers would lose weight under that kind of a plan is in their wallets and in their bank accounts.

This also brings up a philosophical question.

Is it the role of government to tell citizens what to eat?

This country was founded by people who were sick of government telling them what they could and couldn’t do.

Unfortunately, that message seems to have been lost somewhere along the way, and every year, the government tries to exert more control over the private lives of citizens.

We may need government to protect us from foreign aggressors, but we do not need government to protect us from ourselves.

There is such a thing as personal responsibility. We forget this sometimes, but it is there.

We are supposed to be a free people, and as such, we don’t need a government using our tax dollars to try to bully us into changing our behavior.

Eating a balanced diet is a great idea, but it is not the role of government to force us to do so.

It makes sense for government to enforce rules to be sure that the food we eat is safe (although there have been plenty of examples recently that suggest it has failed in this role).

It does not, however, make sense for some government drone in a white lab coat to decide how much sugar (or other ingredient) is in the food we eat.

We have food labeling guidelines in place. Generally speaking, it is not because people don’t know what is in products that they consume junk food – it is because they don’t care.

Anyone who thinks people who go down to their local fast food emporium and order a double bacon cheeseburger, jumbo order of fries, and a vat of cola because they don’t understand the consequences is simply deluded.

Beverage makers buy high fructose corn syrup by the tanker load. Swilling soda all day as a staple of one’s diet is not a wise choice, but that doesn’t mean government should create more bureaucracy to regulate it.

If people have access to accurate information and still make poor choices, it is not the role of government to try to tax them into changing their behavior.

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