“You can have it your way, but your next burger may come with a tax,” warned CNN’s Jack Cafferty last week. Referring to a proposed fast-food tax in Detroit, fellow CNN commentator Andy Serwer added: “If it does happen, it’s really pathetic and sad.” Of course, the intellectual godfather of that “pathetic and sad” tax — as well as a similar proposal now coming out of the Irish government — is Yale professor Kelly Brownell. So it should have come as quite a shock to Cafferty and Serwer when Brownell admitted this weekend that there’s no evidence to support his brainchild.

More from last week’s CNN exchange:

CAFFERTY: It’s just stupid. The poorest people in the town wind up paying this tax.

SERWER: Poor people pay the tax. That’s number one. Number two, apparently even salads at McDonald’s would be taxed. So say you’re a poor person, or a rich person, and you’re eating McDonald’s and you’re eating healthy, you’d still be taxed.

Following up on their story, Cafferty and Serwer invited Brownell to discuss the fat tax issue on their show this weekend. Shockingly, Brownell acknowledged even he’s not sure if a fat tax would work.

CAFFERTY: Is this an area where the government ought to be messing around with ideas about taxing us?

BROWNELL: We don’t know, because we’re not sure how taxes would work.





CAFFERTY: But, is it the right thing for the government to be doing this kind of stuff?

BROWNELL: We don’t know. We don’t have evidence to know whether a tax like this would affect the American diet or not.

Maybe Brownell should reconsider his proposal for a $1.5 billion “Nutrition Superfund” supported by a fat tax. In his 2003 book, Food Fight, he suggested a 5-10% tax on certain foods. He’s even talked about a nutrient-per-calorie calculation to determine how much a food should be taxed. But now Brownell admits his taxing proposal is no slam dunk. In this, he’s not alone. As Cafferty put it, “We have taxes on everything now except my dinner and I’m not so sure I’m for the government deciding they want to tax what I eat.”