The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Sin taxes’

THE OXYMORON

We are all familiar with phrases which are composed of two words that seem to be inherently contradictory such as “Jumbo shrimp.”  We describe this as an oxymoron.  Occasionally we find one word which has the same characteristic and it is to that we turn our attention today.  The word I would like to examine is “Malnutrition.”

Of course, “Mal” means bad while the part of the word to which it is attached, “Nutrition” is something that sustains us.  When we use this word, our minds often gravitate to graphic images of children in the third world.

We have probably all seen pictures of infants and children so lacking in food that they have understandably become the poster children of private agencies asking that we send donations to remedy their horrible situations.  Even as a child I was moved to start making a monthly donation to CARE to help these poor kids.

Many years later it is still the same story.  There are children (and adults) who do not eat enough or nutritiously enough on a regular basis.  This problem is not limited to the third world – it exists in America as well.

The reason that millions die of starvation every year is the same as it was when I was a child.  Our ability to procreate exceeds our ability to provide.  And in the United States we encourage this overpopulation with its inevitable resultant consequences as a matter of both social and fiscal policy.

Consider our distribution of supplemental funds to those living at or below the poverty level in this country.  How much does a recipient receive on a monthly basis?  That is determined as a function of how many adults and children are in that particular family.  Each additional child provides an additional income.  Sadly the poor are often the uneducated and there have been reports of some recipients intentionally bearing more children simply to get the additional monthly stipend.

Our income tax laws also promulgate this same sort of “reward” for people with large families.  Each additional dependent provides an additional deduction from Form 1040.  Apparently the Congress which crafted the Internal Revenue Code subscribes to the biblical injunction, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Nutrition or, if you prefer, malnutrition is at the fundamental core of the problem that we euphemistically call, “healthcare.”   Now that the Supreme Court has decided that Obamacare’s dictate that most Americans purchase health insurance is a Tax, I would like to explore a few ideas on how an informed health-Tax policy might actually set us on the road to becoming a healthier nation in the future

We tax cigarettes and alcohol for one stated reason – they are supposed to be “bad” for us.  The fact that both the Federal and State governments derive huge amounts of revenue from these taxes is corollary to my argument.  Nor am I alleging that the use of tobacco or alcohol are good.  I accept the statement that they are deleterious to our health.

With the high court’s ruling,  we have potentially embarked on a new era of taxation in order to support our healthcare system.  It would be beneficial  if medical scientists and nutritionists would develop a list of other things that, like smoking and drinking, are bad for us and which we might tax.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has already correctly identified one of those.  That is soda (or pop) depending on where you live.  He has put forth several proposals that would either tax each soda sold in the city or limit the quantity that could be sold to a consumer in one purchase.

The reason is that refined white sugar (or perhaps even worse, artificial sweeteners) have long term detrimental effects on our health.  I’ve attached a link that outlines the history of refined white sugar’s role in the advancement of slavery as well as its harmful effects when consumed over long periods of time – but there are many others which come to the same conclusion should the reader wish to explore this subject more fully.

http://macrobiotics.co.uk/sugar.htm

If I were to go with one of the Mayor’s proposals it would be the first one.  Add a tax to the cost of each soda that is sold, whether at the supermarket or at restaurants.  This may surprise some of you who realize that I write from a Libertarian point of view – supporting yet another government tax.  But I view this as consistent with my principles.

I believe that everyone should be free to do whatever he or she wants without government intervention or interference – up until the point that their behavior affects me.  At that point I have the right – no I have the responsibility – to get involved in the conversation.

It is clear that the explosion in so many chronic diseases including diabetes and cardiovascular problems could be greatly reduced if we made good dietary and lifestyle choices.  The failure to do that on the part of some of our citizenry affects all the rest of us in terms of the cost and availability of our healthcare.  Just as we penalize smokers and alcohol users, the same logic should apply to diet.

There are many who probably do not understand the effects that their food choices have on their health.  Obviously government does understand this since it now requires the listing of ingredients in products, the number of calories that a particular item contains, the amount of saturated and non-saturated fats that can be found in a meal to cite a few examples.

There are certainly many who, despite the fact that they realize their food choices are unhealthful, continue to make those same choices.   Bad habits are hard to break – particularly if we have held to them for long periods of time.  And while I give credit to the fast food industry for introducing more healthful choices for their customers, I suspect that those represent a fairly small portion of their overall sales.

It would have been difficult to advance this argument with any hope of success as few as ten years ago.  You can imagine the reaction from the soda giants, Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola (which today will still lobby strongly against it).  But whether it was simply a matter of expanding their line of products or because they realized that the handwriting might be on the wall, both of these now sell bottled water which has been a fast growing segment of their businesses.

The longest journey begins with a single step – and we have a long way to go before we become a healthier nation.  Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to tax carbonated beverages is that first step – and one in the right direction.

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