Last night’s broadcast of Paula Zahn Now on CNN included a debate between a staunch opponent of consumer freedom and an equally steadfast supporter, arguing over that most absurd of food police proposals: the fat tax. Veteran trial lawyer John Banzhaf led off in favor of fat taxes by talking about cigarettes, pointing out that since tobacco can be addictive … well, we couldn’t really follow the connection. Reason magazine editor Jacob Sullum, on the other hand, pointed out that a tax on fatty foods is “not a very efficient or fair approach to this problem” of obesity.
Sullum went on to pick apart the fat tax with this sound observation:
If you impose a tax on fattening foods, there are plenty of thin people and merely overweight not obese people who eat potato chips and ice cream. They’re going to end up paying a penalty for that and that doesn’t seem fair and it’s certainly not efficient in terms of recouping the costs.
Baldly denying the obvious, Banzhaf asserted:
There’s no food police. Nobody is telling anybody what they can or cannot eat … Now Jacob says it’s not the government’s business. That argument was weighed more than 50 years ago with regard to smoking. We have over 150 countries which have signed a world treaty saying smoking is their business.
Banzhaf’s tobacco-flavored defense of the fat tax gets a little shakier in light of the fact that Yale professor Kelly Brownell, the intellectual godfather of the “Twinkie tax,” has admitted: “We don’t have evidence to know whether a tax like this would affect the American diet or not.“
Sullum saved his best shots for last, noting:
This is an open-ended license for the government to meddle in our personal lives. There’s no logical stopping point. There’s nothing the government could not in principle tax or regulate or prohibit that carries any risk at all of disease.