A Sunday op-ed in the New York Times suggests government, as protector of public health, should tax “bad” foods like soda, chips and candy, subsidizing healthy foods like vegetables with the billions of “extra revenue” those sin taxes would raise.
The author leads with a true premise: the average American diet includes a higher-than-idea proportion of empty calories. But his conclusion, which he sees as the only logical one, is that the government must do something to change that.
Americans drink gallons of Coca Cola each year and favor Doritos over zucchini with meals, he says.
“Yet the food industry appears incapable of marketing healthier foods… Their mission is not public health but profit, so they’ll continue to sell the health-damaging food that’s most profitable, until the market or another force skews things otherwise. That “other force” should be the federal government, fulfilling its role as an agent of the public good and establishing a bold national fix.”
That right there should make anyone who has read the Founders pause. Government was created to protect our right to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and to provide security from enemies, not to protect “public health.” Protecting our right to be healthy does not give government the right to enforce what it sees as health.
The author shies away from this challenge by simply restating his unsupported premise that our health is government’s job:
“This program would, of course, upset the processed food industry. Oh well. It would also bug those who might resent paying more for soda and chips and argue that their right to eat whatever they wanted was being breached. But public health is the role of the government, and our diet is right up there with any other public responsibility you can name, from water treatment to mass transit.”
Such a premise sounds logical to anyone comfortable with extending government’s role to “public health,” but notice the wording of the last sentence: “our health.” The author is forced to acknowledge that public health is just the collective version of individuals’ healthy, giving government the responsibility for making sure each American is eating the way it sees fit.
Giving government that liberty does two very dangerous things. First, it tosses personal responsibility out the window. Deciding poor Americans are too poor to afford healthy food — or not smart enough to make good choices– is simply a false conclusion.
Sure, it’s harder to plan healthy meals on a tight budget. But I’ve done it for years and have learned how to stretch a few vegetables, a protein and a few healthy carbs a long way. Planning those meals is my own responsibility as a health-conscious person living in an expensive city on a small budget. No one else bears the blame for my poor eating choices.
Giving government the responsibility of telling me what I should eat does even more than that. It invites Big Government right into our homes and hands over every other part of our lives as well. If government punishes me for my Coca Cola, why shouldn’t it punish me for sleeping too few hours, not going for my morning run, or not being well-read? There’s nothing to stop the centralized control of individual lives once that train leaves the station.
The author continues:
“But you don’t need sugary beverages (or the associated fries), which have been linked not only to Type 2 diabetes and increased obesity but also to cardiovascular diseases and decreased intake of valuable nutrients like calcium.”
Of course I don’t need a coke and fries. But if I want them, as a free American citizen I should be allowed to buy them unpunished if I want to. The NYT opinion piece should be a disturbing wake-up call to proponents of limited government and individual responsibility that we need to fight back and restore those values in our nation before it’s too late.