Daily News writer Paul Mrozek has a lengthy piece out today on Gov. Paterson's plans to tell parents how to raise their children -- specifically how to control their diets.
He includes all the facts from the governor's perspective, but passes over one lone skeptical voice deep in the article. There is little focus on the propriety of New York engaging in social engineering, nor the degree to which this plan is going to create new bureaucracies and hence new expenses, whether there is any evidence such a plan will work, nor how the plan will impact businesses and create new costs that will be passed along to all consumers.
The most far-reaching of the proposals is an 18 percent sales tax on sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda. Juices from fruit such as oranges and grapes are excluded from the proposed tax.
In the past 40 years New York residents have increased their consumption of pop from an average of five 12-ounce cans or bottles per week to 11 per week. Research has shown that consumption of non-diet soft drinks is one of the primary factors that increases the risk of obesity in children and adults.
"No question about the link. We have a core fact in front of us," Daines said.
Not so fast. There is a question. A big fat question.
To blame all low-income obesity on soda pop alone is myopic. Low-income diets tend to be heavy in empty carbohydrates of all kinds, not just sugar. Children living in food insecure homes consume less healthy food. One reason there is such an abundance of empty-carb foods can be traced to farm subsidies for corn, but even that connection is a rather simplistic view of the obesity problem among poorer children.
There is also the question of proper exercise. In too many homes, children are allowed to watch TV or play video games rather than being required to run around outside.
These are largely parental issues, not government issues.
If the government wanted to do something to help, they would restructure aid programs to make it easier to buy healthier food. Given a choice, most parents would pick more meats, fruits and vegetables. But right now these options are beyond their budgets.
Driving up the costs of the high-carb foods isn't going to help them afford the good foods.
The article says, "You raise prices. You provide alternatives." But what are those alternatives. How are they paid for and provided? If the alternatives are paid for by the tax, how does the state ensure sufficient revenue for those alternatives once consumption of the taxed items goes down?
Will taxed drinks receive some sort of stamp like alcohol and cigarettes? If so, aren't we just creating yet another environment for potential illegal black market activities?
And one issue about the proposed tax I've not seen discussed anywhere is the impact on business: Who will levy the tax? Will retail outlets be burdened with the the expense of tracking and tallying the tax, which could include the expense of reprogramming cash registers? And if the tax is imposed at the wholesale level, won't it just get passed along to all consumers of soft drinks and other beverages from those particular wholesalers?
What about vending machines? Will vendors be required to have two prices on drinks in their machines -- one for taxed items, and one for non-taxed? Or will us diet drinkers just pay more? Who pays for the expense of reprogramming machines or replacing machines that aren't capable of handling tiered prices on soft drinks?
Per usual, any time the government starts interfering in private lives and private enterprise, there are as many if not more problems created than solved.
Here's an appropriate and timely video from Reason Magazine.