Tina K. Russell

December 23, 2008

Vice precedent

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:33 am

Letters – A Tax on Sugary Sodas? – NYTimes.com
To the Editor:

Re “Miracle Tax Diet,” by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, Dec. 18):

It may very well be that a higher tax on sugary soda would shrink Empire State waistlines as it fattens Albany’s coffers. But what ultimate price, in terms of individual freedom, shall we pay if the state starts dictating our dietary and lifestyle choices?

Using the rubric of better overall health as a “sweetener” for government intrusion in citizens’ private lives could damage our liberties in the same way that high-fructose corn syrup may have had on our body-mass measurements.

I’m happy to have government give me information with which I can make informed decisions, but let the choice be mine — untaxed and unfettered, please.

Mark A. Kellner
Columbia, Md., Dec. 18, 2008

I may have mentioned this before (I don’t remember), but John Stuart Mill had a few things to say on this in his essay, On Liberty. He spends good chunks of the essay condemning government attempts to limit individual choice, even bad choices, if they do not affect others. But, on the subject of vice taxes (see chapter 5, paragraph 9), he notes that governments have to raise money, that taxes are best levied on items that are nonessential, and that a vice is, by definition, nonessential. If it’s actively harmful to us, it’s something we can spare from our budgets, and therefore a good option for a tax.

As it happens, government actively subsidizes candy and fast-food through our ridiculous farm subsidy system, and a subsidy is a reverse tax. Government already influences our nutritional habits, and the question is whether or not they’re doing so in good faith.

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