There is a theory of political dynamics — called the “Overton window” after the political scientist that articulated it — that holds that certain policies are thinkable and others are unthinkable. With that in mind, consider the recent interview with Robert Lustig, author of the recent wacky editorial claiming sugar should be treated like tobacco. Speaking to the UK’s Telegraph, Lustig claims that two major players in the big-government “food police” movement are actually too moderate for his tastes:
There’s Kelly Brownell, an obesity expert and professor of psychology at Yale. “He thinks a penny-an-ounce soda tax will reduce consumption. I don’t,” says Lustig. […] There’s Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, and author of Food Politics: “she isn’t necessarily for regulation”.
We’ll set aside that we haven’t seen a regulation that these two didn’t like, along with the fact they respectively said that Lustig’s Orwellian commentary “helps confirm what people tell you anecdotally [about sugar being addictive]” and amounted to “a wakeup call.” Those are hardly objections to a Ministry of Sweets.
In fact, Brownell and Nestle stand to benefit from the Lustig commentary, whether they back it explicitly or not. Lustig’s proposal to card kids at the candy counter makes the massively unpopular Twinkie Tax look tame by comparison, making it easier to sell as a “moderate” step. It’s the same dynamic we see with PETA and the Humane Society of the United States. Once Brownell has his foot in the door with a small tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, what’s to say that a man who openly compares soda to tobacco won’t throw that whole book of regulations at everything from chocolate milk to sports drinks?
The answer, of course, is nothing. Brownell may not openly say that he’d create the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, and Soda, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen in his perfect world. He’s just more patient than to claim the sky is falling.