Apparently, one of the most absurd policy proposals ever generated by obesity zealots is still being taken seriously by political higher-ups. Yesterday on the Fox News Channel, an assortment of ostensibly conservative talking heads debated the value of a national "fat tax" on high-calorie and high-fat foods. This food-police favorite would supposedly stem the tide of rising obesity rates by financially punishing “bad” eating decisions. Normally, anti-big-government types are quick to condemn fat taxes as an unwarranted infringement of personal freedoms. But, as the Fox News broadcast makes clear, some are changing their tune.
Fortunately, at least one panelist — Forbes magazine editor-in-chief and erstwhile presidential hopeful Steve Forbes — wasn’t ready to jump on the fat tax bandwagon, and had some choice barbs for his overzealous colleagues. Here’s our favorite:
Think necktie taxes are just hyperbole? Think again. They’re just the sort of arbitrary "solutions" we’ll get stuck with if the fat-tax logic catches on. It’s incredibly dangerous to let a handful of bureaucrats make judgment calls, backed by the force of law, about individual lifestyle choices. And it’s practically inevitable that government programs presumably aimed at helping people make “better” choices will devolve into dangerous exercises in social engineering. And that means financial punishments for choices that are entirely safe but aren’t approved of by the powerful. Oxford economist Adam Creighton powerfully made just that point in a recent op-ed in The American magazine:
Perhaps fat-taxers … should instead agitate for dismantling the public health system, much of which exists to alleviate health problems resulting from poor decisions. A handyman lifts packages incorrectly and injures his back; the sexually promiscuous contract STDs; a narcissist stares into the mirror all day and needs psychiatric care; and so on. Many people’s behavior saps the public largesse for their recuperation; yet no one is lobbying to tax heavy parcels, nightclubs or mirrors.
The real solution to obesity rates is what we’ve been yammering about for years: increased personal responsibility. As the editors of Michigan’s Flint Journal noted yesterday:
Ultimately, success in reducing comes not from grandiose pronouncements from on high, but by incremental changing of habits, perhaps beginning with a little daily exercise to start out and eating a few more fruits and vegetables at a single meal.