I received a record number of emails alerting me to Denmark’s new tax on fatty foods. In case you haven’t heard about it, here are some quotes from one of the many news articles:
Denmark is to impose the world’s first “fat tax” in a drive to slim its population and cut heart disease. The move may increase pressure for a similar tax in the UK, which suffers from the highest levels of obesity in Europe.
Starting from this Saturday, Danes will pay an extra 30p on each pack of butter, 8p on a pack of crisps, and an extra 13p on a pound of mince, as a result of the tax.
If the U.S. government ever starts taxing my mince, I’m going to start a revolution.
The tax is expected to raise about 2.2bn Danish Krone (£140m), and cut consumption of saturated fat by close to 10 percent, and butter consumption by 15 percent.
Which means it will raise the consumption of crappy industrial food products by around 25 percent.
“It’s the first ever fat-tax,” said Mike Rayner, Director of Oxford University’s Health Promotion Research Group, who has long campaigned for taxes on unhealthy foods.
Unhealthy foods? I thought the tax was on saturated fat and butter.
“It’s very interesting. We haven’t had any practical examples before. Now we will be able to see the effects for real.”
So let me get this straight: you have no practical examples – which means you have no evidence that taxing fatty foods is a good idea – but you favor imposing those taxes anyway? Mr. Rayner, are you by any chance related to The Guy From CSPI?
I read some rah-rah comments by journalists who love the nanny state, but at least one news article raised an important issue:
Butter, milk, cheese, pizza, meat, oil and processed food are now subject to the tax if they contain more than 2.3% saturated fat. Danish officials say they hope the new tax will help limit the population’s intake of fatty foods.
However, some scientists think saturated fat may be the wrong target. They say salt, sugar and refined carbohydrates are more detrimental to health and should be tackled instead.
Those scientists are two-thirds right: sugar and refined carbohydrates are more detrimental to health. But as for “should be tackled first” – ummm … why? Why should governments be tackling any of our food choices? Or as Jacob Sullum (who appeared in Fat Head) aptly put it in one of his essays, When the did the size of your butt become the government’s business?
Whenever the nanny-statists set out to provide another real-life example of the punchline We’re from the government, and we’re here to help, they never pause to ask themselves two crucial questions:
- Is this an appropriate task for government, and therefore an appropriate application of government force?
- Do government officials have the knowledge and expertise to make the correct decisions on this matter and therefore apply force in a beneficial way?
One of the many reasons I love living in Tennessee is that a surprising number of politicians here actually ask themselves question #1 before acting. I stood up and cheered when I heard that our mayor warned an alderman that he would veto the alderman’s proposed bill to outlaw hurricane fences. The alderman insisted hurricane fences are ugly. The mayor agreed … but said telling property owners what kind of fence they can install on their own land isn’t a proper function of government. What a concept.
Nanny-statists, of course, believe that restricting our freedom in order to bring about whatever benefits they imagine will follow is just fine and dandy. New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg recently spoke at a WHO conference dedicated to creating new policies to battle obesity, diabetes and other “non-communicable” diseases – in other words, diseases you can’t transmit to anyone else. We’re not talking about stopping someone from spreading polio to unwitting victims here; we’re talking about governments attempting to protect people from their own free choices. Here’s part of what Bloomberg had to say:
While government action is not sufficient alone, it is nevertheless absolutely essential. There are powers only governments can exercise.
True … only government can legally threaten to commit violence against you and toss you in jail if you don’t do what you’re told.
Policies only governments can mandate and enforce. And results only government can achieve.
True again … I don’t think private organizations alone could have foisted so much bad dietary advice on us that we’d end up with record numbers of adolescents developing type 2 diabetes.
I’ve been watching (in small chunks) the excellent Ken Burns documentary on Prohibition – the most famous example of our government trying to protect people from themselves. In one of the opening sequences, several historians wondered how Prohibition ever could’ve passed in America. As one of them noted, the Constitution was designed to guarantee individual freedom – but then we passed a constitutional amendment that specifically restricted individual freedom. It was, one of them noted, quite un-American, quite contrary to our national character.
Yes, it was … or at least it used to be. Have you ever wondered why Prohibition required a constitutional amendment to become law? If Congress wanted to ban the sale and manufacture of alcohol, why didn’t they pass a federal law and start enforcing it?
The answer is that Congress knew the law would be struck down as unconstitutional faster than you can open a bottle of beer. It would’ve clearly violated the Constitution’s limits on federal power, and back in those days most judges had this wild notion that the Constitution actually means what it says.
(Warning: sidebar political rant …)
Then along came a bull@#$% theory promoted by “progressives” that the Constitution is a “living, breathing document” – which means judges can just interpret it pretty much any ol’ way they choose. A “living, breathing” Constitution is nearly worthless. Any part of it can be lived and breathed out of existence by some nanny-state judge, as we’ve seen countless times now.
A couple of you have commented previously that you support the idea of a “living, breathing” Constitution because you don’t believe today’s government should be restricted by words written on a piece of paper more than 200 years ago. Before you swoop in to repeat those comments now, I want you to answer a question:
Suppose as part of the “war on terror,” Congress made it a crime to publicly criticize the commander-in-chief or the military … you know, because the founders couldn’t have anticipated world-wide terror networks, ya see, so they couldn’t possibly have understood that someday an American citizen’s anti-war comments could show up the next day on YouTube or Al Jazeera and provide comfort and inspiration to people who want to kill American soldiers, so we have to re-interpret the Constitution to fit today’s circumstances.
Now … are you okay with that law? Do you buy the “living, breathing” Constitution theory in this example? Or would you still expect the First Amendment to protect your freedom of speech? If so, why? Why should the Constitution be interpreted literally when it places limits on government that you hold sacred, but become all fuzzy and living and breathing when it places limits on government that I hold sacred? You can’t have it both ways.
(End of sidebar political rant … sort of.)
Obviously, since I believe the legitimate purpose of government is to protect our freedom, I don’t believe mandating health habits is a proper function of government. I don’t believe governments should be telling us what to eat, where to eat, how much we should pay for what we eat, or how much salt can be included in the packaged foods we buy. I don’t believe governments have any business requiring restaurants to post calorie counts on menus or to serve low-fat or low-sugar foods.
And I certainly don’t believe governments have any business telling citizens that they can’t buy raw milk, as happened recently in Wisconsin. (That judge explained to the citizen that we have no right to consume the foods we prefer, because we only have the rights the government grants us … which means the judge is a @#$%ing nanny-state idiot who would benefit from having a copy of the Declaration of Independence forcibly inserted in his colon – raw and un-pasteurized, of course.)
On to question #2 – If government is going mandate health habits, does government have the knowledge and expertise to make the correct decisions?
Thanks, after the political rant, I needed a good laugh. Bloomberg is the genius who thinks government should force food manufacturers to reduce the salt content in their products, despite no evidence whatsoever that restricting salt would do diddly for our health. Meanwhile, here’s what the World Health Organization is proposing:
Among the items included in the declaration are having governments intervene with the advertising of foods deemed unhealthy to “Promote the implementation of the WHO (World Health Organization) set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, including foods that are high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt,” according to the document.
See the problem here? You and I may agree that trans fats and sugar are bad for us, but some people still insist they’re harmless. I believe saturated fat is good for us and grains are bad for us. Other people believe it’s exactly the opposite. You can cite evidence either way if you’re clever about it. The difference is that I’m not interested in forcing my beliefs and my food choices on anyone else. The nanny-statists are very interested in doing exactly that — and they don’t have the expertise to know for sure their choices are the best choices.
Governments should back off and leave us alone. Our government has been telling us what to eat for 40 years now and subsidizing the foods it insists are good for us. Does anyone believe we’ve gotten healthier as a result?