On October 30, I'm going to be appearing as a panelist at the Commonwealth Club of California to debate Proposition E on San Francisco's November 4th ballot, a 2¢ per ounce tax on distributors of sugar-added beverages.
While I've spoken on and debated city ballot measures at numerous local forums this year and previously, this one is kind of a big deal -- the Commonwealth Club is a prestigious organization that often hosts high-profile speakers, and a quick search of their archives ( http://www.commonwealthclub.org/search/node/libertarian ) reveals they've only had a dozen previous events in the past decade or so that mention the word "libertarian" (events featuring prominent guests including Christopher Hitchens, David Boaz, Bob Barr, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch of Reason, P.J. O'Rourke, Charles Murray, Art Olivier, and others).
Right now the other panelists besides myself are a county supervisor who is the measure's leading proponent, and an anti-sugar doctor (they may or may not add another panelist who's against the tax). So I want to be ready to make a strong pro-freedom case, and am putting out a call for help finding good data and arguments against this kind of tax. Here is the text of the measure:
Please note I am *not* planning to argue that sugary beverages aren't unhealthy, because I believe they are. However comparisons with other unhealthy foods, beverages, and activities that people engage in are certainly fair game. Data showing that taxes of this sort are ineffective or have unintended negative consequences would also be most helpful. Here are some of the arguments I intend to make:
• Your body belongs to you, and it should be up to you to decide what to put into it, healthy or not.
• This is a slippery slope. The concerns voiced here about people with unhealthy lifestyles becoming a taxpayer burden illustrate how government healthcare subsidies are a threat to your freedom to do *anything* in your life that other people may view as unhealthy or risky (accurately or not). Similar arguments could be used to ban, restrict or tax mountain climbing, football, potato chips, driving, birthday cakes, overseas travel, etc.
• Proposition E would hurt San Francisco businesses, especially small retailers who rely on the sale of soft drinks and other sweetened beverages for a significant portion of their sales, causing many residents to do their beverage shopping in Daly City or elsewhere outside SF, and maybe their grocery and other shopping as well while they're there.
• A 2¢ per ounce tax means a 2-liter, 64 oz soda would have a $1.28 tax added to it which could more than double the cost of the item -- a tax that so dramatically raises the cost of products risks fueling a black market for sodas. Black markets tend to mean increased enforcement costs, and higher rates of violent crime as sellers compete for the high profits to be made in illegal sales.
• San Francisco is already increasingly unaffordable -- this is probably the #1 local news item of 2014. This tax would make the city even less affordable, especially for lower income people most at risk of being driven out of the city, because they are disproportionate consumers of soda, and also because this is a regressive tax and all regressive taxes fall most heavily on the poor.
• Retailers who are charged more for sodas by their distributors who would be paying this tax are not required to add this additional overhead to the cost of their sodas and sweetened beverages, but may choose to spread price increases out over other products they sell in order to maintain their bottom line. This means Proposition E may increase your grocery bill even if you never buy sodas, energy drinks, chocolate milk, sweet ice teas, or other sugar-added beverages.
• Increasing poor people's cost of living will leave them less money to pay for their own health care and less money to pay for education, leaving them with less access to information about good nutrition and healthy eating, and less time to worry about such things amid the struggle to pay the bills.
• Proposition E promises to use tax revenues expected to be generated by the measure on promoting healthy living via stuff like nutrition education, school sports programs, and so on, but money is fungible. There's nothing to stop politicians from cutting existing funding of these programs at the same time they add this new tax money, so that the ultimate effect is to divert the funds toward other purposes. They have a very poor track record of spending taxpayer money in the ways that were originally promised to voters.
• Proposition E is government greed. As of 2010, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that one of every 3 city government employees was paid over $100,000 a year, and salaries have only increased since then -- this tax would be taxing the "have-nots" in order to give the "haves" more money to play with. If they want more money for health and recreation programs, they should raise the money by cutting their own generous salaries, benefits, and office overhead, instead of doing it on the backs of ordinary San Franciscans.
• Proposition E is social engineering -- government officials who think they are wiser than we are treating us like children and attempting to manipulate public behavior.
• A much better approach to encouraging healthy eating and lifestyles would be to eliminate government subsidies for things like high fructose corn syrup, and to stop subsidizing "pre-existing conditions" resulting from unhealthy lifestyles by charging these people the same amount for their health care as people who exercise, eat responsibly, and take care of their health.
Any additional arguments, or points to back up the arguments listed above -- in particular hard numbers, research data, quotes, and so on -- that anyone can provide would be appreciated!
Love & Liberty,
((( starchild )))