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Wealth & Poverty Review The Calorie Tax: Coming Soon?

Just taxing sugar is no longer the recommended policy for a government that seeks to exercise greater influence over the choices of consumers. A much more effective method, according to a study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — an organization that is a leading advocate for taxing “unhealthy” behavior and, relatedly, a major supporter of Obamacare — would be to implement a tax based on calories, rather than on ounces. According to the Foundation’s study, as summarized in the New York Times:

…consumption of calories in drinks would drop 9.3 percent if a tax of four-hundredths of a penny for every calorie was added to the price, but fall by just 8.6 percent under a tax of half a cent for each ounce in a can or bottle.

Really? Considering that there are 138 calories in 12 oz. of Coca-Cola, the proposed tax on a can of Coke would add up to 552 hundredths of a penny — or, under 6 cents. I’m not convinced that most of us would notice the slight increase in the cost of a can of soda, much less care. This projection is based on the assumption that we are homo economicus, constantly aware of and analyzing the minuscule details of price dynamics.

Suspicions aside — do the American people want their consumption choices to be shaped by “government knows best” taxation? Not according to this study from Harris Interactive/HealthDay. For many Americans, the underlying issue isn’t whether we should, or should not, drink soda. The root question is — what is the role of our government? To protect our rights, or optimize the details of our lives?