Seven questions for the nanny staters
One of the absurd aspects of the new health care bill is the 10% tax on tanning. I'm not a big fan of tanning as I prefer to get color the old fashioned way, but I've gone a few times for weddings and stuff and I certainly don't begrudge other people wanting a tan.
Personally I would like to see more taxes on things that costs peoples health. When people smoke, tan, drink too much, eat unhealthy foods, etc... they will get sick and need help at one point in their life. Whether it is threw private or public insurance they will soak up money for unnecessary habits that a larger pool of monetary contributors has to pay into. If a tax can divert some of these people from habits that I might have to help pay for or if it is a tax that can offset the cost difference then I am all for it!
As we inch towards national health care, this attitude that you have the right to affect other people's health & habits will only get more pronounced.
Obviously, this troubles me from the perspective of further government intrusion in my life. We may get better access to health care, but as government expands, freedom contracts. Maybe you don't think the freedom not to pay a bigger tax on tanning is that big of a deal. You're probably right. But as the comment above shows, tanning is only the tip of the iceberg. And here's seven reasons why it's wrong.
1. Unless we're talking about poison, there's no direct link between food and death. Your food choices might someday in part result in a disease. Then again, maybe they won't. And maybe you'll get a disease that has nothing to do with what you eat.
2. Who decides what an "unhealthy" food is? Oh sure, we can agree that junk food is bad for you. But oh, what about dark chocolate? So, should we add extra taxes to cheap chocolate candy, but not on expensive dark chocolate? And what about things like eggs? I mean sure, they have cholesterol, but they're also full of protein and fill you up so you tend to eat less. And what about red wine? Seriously - deciding what to tax is probably a multi-billion dollar government agency in the making.
3. What does "healthy" mean? Most experts agree that there's a mental aspect to physical health. What I mean by this is: ice cream (and Cheetos). Ice cream makes people happy. If ice cream makes you happy and happiness leads to overall better health, why should we be taxed more for comfort foods like ice cream? Uh oh, sounds like another question for our billion-dollar agency!
4. What makes a food "good"? Most people agree that fruits and vegetables are good for you. But if you eat pineapple, for example, you're consuming something that takes so much energy to get from Hawaii or wherever to your belly. Likewise, eating fruits and vegetables out of season does the same thing. Shouldn't our tax policy discourage this earth-destroying behavior?
5. And speaking of produce, it seems like the government is giving us sticks, but not carrots. If we're really concerned about making Americans healthy, then where are the tax breaks for CSA memberships or bike purchases? If we can have Cash for Clunkers, then why not Tax Breaks for Treks?
6. Among the infinite number of unhealthy things that can be taxed, who decides what is? Before tanning took the bullet, it was going to be a 5% tax on Botox. So why tanning? Is it because it's so unhealthy or because the tanning lobby wasn't as influential as the Botox lobby? Or maybe it's because the wrong kind of white people tan, while the right kind get Botox and spray tans (which aren't included in the tax).
7. No matter how healthy you are, you're going to get sick and you're going to die. And, you're going to cost the rest of us money. How do we deal with that? If this is all about saving tax payers money, then perhaps we should encourage unhealthy habits so that people will die faster and therefore we'll save money on their health care. Think about all of the extra years that someone who lives until 90 would consume taxpayer funded health care. It's an outrage!
There are certainly some good aspects to the health care bill, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be on the watch for some of the more subtly bad things that could come of it.
Posted by kris at March 28, 2010 06:59 PM
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|# March 29th, 2010 11:22 AM james|
|Your arguments seem to boil down to "But WHO will decide? HOW will they decide?"
The answer to all of your questions: Congress.
The Constitution - it's not just a good idea, it's the law.
|# March 29th, 2010 11:28 AM kris|
|Actually my argument is that no one should decide because it's none of their damn business. I'm trying to point out the futility of even trying to use tax policy to force health.
|# March 29th, 2010 1:04 PM james|
|Taxation is wholly Congress' business. Why they decide to tax something is really beside the point, isn't it?
The Federal Tax Code has nearly always been a very long and intricate social engineering document. You call it futile, but I think the evidence shows that it's effective. For example, Congress prefers that you invest your money in longer term vehicles, so they make capital gains tax on longer held investments lower than tax on short term investments. Congress prefers that you save your money for retirement or for college, so they offer tax breaks in those areas. They want you to own a home, so they make mortgage interest tax deductible. In the health arena, many ex-smokers attribute "cost" as one of the primary reasons for quitting.
There seems to be a real disconnect in right-winger's taxation arguments. (Not talking about you necessarily, just speaking generally.) From one side of their mouth, they advocate user fees on goods and services, or a national sales tax. From the other, they bitch about any and all new taxes as being "none of the government's damned business."
Would you have preferred that, instead of specifically taxing tanning services, Congress simply said, "we're raising the federal income tax by 1% to cover general health costs."? Had they done so, I suspect people would have been saying, "Why should I pay for people who tan? Why can't they just tax tanning services to cover it?"
I don't understand why you're focusing on a detail as minute as why something is being taxed. Because there are 1,000 other rationales that could be used to tax the same thing, and 1,000 other ways the same money could be raised through alternate taxation. I honestly just don't understand the outrage.
|# March 29th, 2010 1:30 PM kris|
|I'd be happier with a general 1% tax increase. Fine - I pay for the people who tan and they pay for the people who love ice cream. It evens out. I'm all for that. I'm a big believer in evening out.
I accept that we pay taxes, but I hate that we use taxes to engineer social policy in the first place. Why is government in the business of "encouraging" us to do anything? If they need money, just take it - don't try to rationalize as being good for me somehow - other than in what the money goes to pay for. I guess I just want to be acknowledged as an individual rather than as a tool for government to implement desired policies.
I'm focusing on the details because I think the details reveal the absurdity of it and some of the problems with using taxes to drive policy. Food guidelines and information change all of the time and to expect tax policy to keep up with something like that is just stupid.
|# March 29th, 2010 3:27 PM james|
|You are acknowledged as an individual and are trusted to make your own decisions. You're free to choose to tan, but you have to bear the increased costs that come along with that decision.
It has nothing to do with implementing an agenda. It's about making sure society at large doesn't have to bear the cost of an individual's poor choices.
We tax cigarettes because people choose to smoke with little regard for the consequences. They say, "My body, my choice! None of your business!" That is, until they get emphysema at the ripe age of 60 and expect to go on disability & have everyone else share in the legacy costs of their poor choices.
Cigarettes are an easy example, but I think food fits into this category as well. Large food manufacturers load food up with cheap, often unhealthy ingredients just to drive costs down & increase profits, often times knowing full well that long term consumption will lead to negative health effects. Why shouldn't they have to pay the costs associated with this food? And why shouldn't a consumer who chooses to save a few bucks on their weekly grocery bill share in this cost as well? It's not fair to people who choose to pay more for healthier food that they have to subsidize another's unhealthy lifestyle.
I think it's better conceived as being a tax aimed at manufacturers, not individuals. Food is a very price-driven industry. Most people buy on price alone, so to be competitive manufacturers are forced to cut costs. Increased taxes on these foods will allow healthier food manufacturers to maintain their higher standards and compete with those who choose to cut corners.
You're right, available information is always changing. When studies show that corn syrup, an incredibly cheap food additive that has allowed companies to make untold trillions in extra profits, at the expense of the general public's health, shouldn't something be done about it? Because there are probably a lot of companies out there that would prefer to NOT use corn syrup, but they have to just to survive in the marketplace.
|# March 29th, 2010 3:49 PM kris|
It has nothing to do with implementing an agenda. It's about making sure society at large doesn't have to bear the cost of an individual's poor choices.
But society at large doesn't just bear the costs of an individual's poor choices. We bear the costs of anyone just for being alive and all of their choices, good or bad.
When someone chooses to have a child, society pays for it - we pay for schooling, entitlements, etc. Some people don't have children. Is it fair to force them to pay taxes to subsidize other people's choices?
Of course it is. It's part of being a member of a society. You don't get to tally up your contributions and your costs and get a refund.
Is a smoker's choice to smoke or a fatty's choice to eat Cheetos any less moral or unfair than a person with a genetic disposition to breast cancer choosing to have children? Or what about someone who chooses to snowboard and therefore has a higher likelihood of tearing an ACL? Society pays for all of these choices and I don't understand why we want to let government try to differentiate between them.
|# March 29th, 2010 3:50 PM james|
|You asked, in #5, "Where are the tax breaks for CSA memberships?" Isn't that backwards? Instead of giving a tax break for healthy food purchases, shouldn't we instead be taxing unhealthy foods, so that the manufacturers of these foods pay the increased costs? I think that's the better approach. |
|# March 29th, 2010 3:52 PM kris|
|But what's unhealthy? That's the whole point of my original post is that that's a moving target.
CSAs, on the other hand, are pretty much always going to be a healthy choice.
|# March 29th, 2010 4:00 PM james|
|It's not as simple as "Person X has chosen to eat Cheetos." And it certainly isn't comparable to procreation or someone's genetic makeup.
Chester Cheetah has manufactured that product in the most profitable way, without regard to the health impact of the ingredients he chooses.
Because there isn't a Chester Cheetah who sat down and said, "Hmm, how can I make this good and healthy?" Instead, there was a board of directors who asked, "How can we make as much money possible?" When they saw that long term health effects have no impact on their balance sheet, they went for the cheapest ingredients they could find.
They are, in effect, robbing the American people by creating and marketing a product that WILL cost all of us money down the line. And they know it. They just don't care. "My responsibility is to the shareholders," they say.
|# March 29th, 2010 4:02 PM james|
|So your problem is that someone has to make a decision as to what's unhealthy? Well hell, who up and decided that cocaine was bad for you? What gave them the right? |
|# March 29th, 2010 4:09 PM kris|
|If the public chooses to eat more Cheetos the shareholders will earn profits which will get taxed by the government and could be used to fund health care that's used on the people that choose to eat Cheetos or alternatively on education programs that tell people why they shouldn't eat too many Cheetos.
I don't disagree on the crap that food companies make, but there's gotta be a better way to do something about it than turn people who eat a bag of Cheetos into villains.
|# March 29th, 2010 4:11 PM kris|
|Cocaine isn't illegal because of its health aspects - it's illegal because it's a mind altering substance that's not alcohol. Plus, unlike with food there is a direct link of cocaine/heroin to death. |
|# March 29th, 2010 4:13 PM kris|
|And yes, part of my problem is in defining what's unhealthy. The original comment that I linked to talked about alcohol but there are SO many studies that show that moderate alcohol intake is actually good for you - so how can you make that part of a sin tax? Or here's an article I just found about chocolate.
Plus, I don't trust that government makes these decisions based on anything other than who has the biggest lobby.
|# March 29th, 2010 4:41 PM james|
|I have to think that if you were alive 45 years ago you'd have used the same arguments against creating automobile standards. Then, auto manufacturers were knowingly producing unsafe vehicles, not paying attention to the impact on consumers because it just wasn't profitable to care. When Ralph Nader started his campaign for safer vehicles, people said, "but cars will cost too much!" "It's not the government's business what car I choose to drive!" "Who is the government to decide what's safe and what isn't? They're bureaucrats!" "They'll just make laws backed by the powerful auto lobby!"
Fortunately, the automakers lost, and we all benefited. The sky didn't fall, and most of us weren't forced to travel by horse and buggy because we couldn't afford these ungodly expensive safety features like seat belts.
Today's food can be just as deadly. This isn't 1800, and we're not talking about adding raisins to some bran flakes. Food manufacturing science has progressed to the point that I'm not even sure if there's a clear cut answer as to what is and isn't actual "food" anymore.
When comprehensive scientific study shows that a particular ingredient has negative long term consequences, the people who knowingly profit from that ingredient should pay the cost. And the people who continue to consume the food should bear the financial costs as well. And yes, we need a government agency full of very smart people to make these determinations.
99% of people aren't food scientists. We all assume that if something is on the shelf at the grocery store, it's safe to eat. If it isn't, we expect someone to tell us. And even when they do tell us, most of us ignore those warnings.
People have a real easy time understanding things like "car crash" and "cancer." And even then, we can't get people to stop smoking. Hell, a lot of them even maintain that smoking doesn't cause cancer, because they "had an aunt who smoked every day of her life and lived to be 100." (I know, I'm related to some of them.)
If people can't even "get" that, how are they going to grasp concepts like "long term health effects?"
|# March 29th, 2010 5:05 PM kris|
|I'm not sure a policy on specific foods is the best way to go about getting the end you're looking for. For example, this is a fascinating comment about "food deserts" and points out how much less access to basic grocery stores the poor have. A tax on junk food is going to be a tax on poor people who may not have access or education about better alternatives. If we're going to use taxes for social policy them why not give tax breaks to set up inner city farmer's markets, grocery stores and the like.
And instead of taxing to decrease demand why aren't we educating? I've heard about Jamie Oliver's new show and working in the schools seems like a good long-term idea. Or what about a big marketing campaign along the lines of "Just Say No" that would promote the idea of primarily shopping the perimeter of your grocery store: "Just say no...to the aisles".
To make this tax policy divides us. It makes Mr. Marathoner think that he somehow costs less than Ms. Cheeto Eater, which may or may not be the case (Mr. Marathoner may have a genetic condition, they may cost taxpayers a fortune in physical therapy, they may have a nasty STD).
|# March 30th, 2010 12:51 PM james|
And 45 years ago the average man would never be able to afford a "safe" car, because it'd be far to expensive for a company to conceive, test, & manufacture a car that met all of the meddling government's standards.
A tax on junk food that contains unhealthy ingredients will force manufacturers to reformulate with healthier components. Your hands-off approach doesn't address the problem at all, which is that companies aim to produce foods as cheaply as possible with little regard for the long term health benefits.
I don't think you're doing the poor any favors with your "the poor can only afford to eat crap so we should let the manufacturers feed them crap" approach. Educate all you want, but in the end the dollar rules the day. People buy what's cheap.
You're acting as if manufacturers won't continue to try to maximize profits in the wake of future legislation. Slap a $1/bag tax on Doritos and you won't see consumer cost go up by $1/bag - you'll see Doritos change their formula so that it escapes the tax & can remain competitive.
|# March 30th, 2010 3:35 PM kris|
|I think your last paragraph is valid. But, people don't buy what's cheap. People don't buy junk food because it's cheap. They buy it because they think it tastes good. So I think you have to make it VERY expensive to control demand through tax policy - think about how high taxes on cigarettes are.
Also, I don't remember the exact source unfortunately, but I remember hearing about a study where they found that if people got breaks on healthy food choices they would just spend the money they saved on junk food anyway.
I also think that you're underestimating the function of the market here. Already you're seeing companies tout their natural aspects or lack of hfcs or whatever. The American people are already telling manufacturers what we want without a super heavy handed government approach.
I think there are places for the government to be more or less involved. I think school lunches and their guidelines are a good place to start. A better place than direct taxation.
Also, in lieu of taxation, wouldn't a quicker approach be regulation of ingredients?