“I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep its taxes high”

When I was a kid, the jingle went: “I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company; I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…” Apparently, the composers were motivated by a group of stranded travellers at the airport in Shannon Airport, Ireland, hanging around a soda vending machine, chatting while their plans (although not their bodies) were up in the air.

When I was a kid, soft drinks were considered pretty harmless comestibles. Indeed, they were a part of Western pop culture that (according to the advertising men, at least) served some purpose of social cohesion.

No longer: Now they are the third party of the axis of evil (joining tobacco and fast food).

When I joined the army, I was ordered: “If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move paint it.” Ronald Reagan’s more famous version was: “If it moves, tax it; if it keeps moving, regulate it; when it stops, subsidize it.”

The nanny-staters have targetted soft drinks as something that moves, and therefore must be taxed. This morning, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof christened New York’s proposed 18% sin tax on soft drinks a “Miracle Tax”, which would plug a $400 million hole in the Empire State’s bloated budget.

His example is the mythological success of decades of tobacco taxation, for which he credits the reduction in smoking. Actually, much evidence shows that smoking incidence was shrinking before the punitive taxation of smoking, and that such taxes have harmful consequences as well – such as more violent crime due to increased contraband traffic in tobacco, and increased government dependence on an unhealthy activity. I reviewed this evidence in my analysis of a proposed (and defeated) hike in California’s tobacco tax. Sally Pipes’ new book, The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care, also debunks the mythology of government “prevention” programs that are supposed to make us live more healthy lives. (It’s myth no. 7.)

Now, just because it’s in the New York Times does not mean that it’s necessarily all wrong. And I agree with Mr. Kristof on one thing: He also demands that the government stop subsidising the production of high-fructose corn syrup, which leads to significant malformation of our agricultural output and consumption.

But that means re-opening the whole danged farm bill. Something I favor, but is a can of worms that I cannot open and close within this blog post.

In the meantime, Mr. Kristof and Gov. Paterson, to misquote another song from my youth: “Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone (to finish their sodas)”.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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