Over at the Atlantic Business Channel, Derek Thompson lists three reasons why skeptics should support a soda tax:
1) The Sin Reason
Sugary beverages account for up to 15 percent of the calories consumed by children, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. The authors wrote that "sugar-sweetened beverages ... may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic."
2) The Market Reason
There's a simple reason why sugary drinks and junk food are contributing to the country's obesity epidemic. They're very, very cheap... Raising the price of sodas, which plummeted relative to overall inflation in the last 30 years, strikes me as a responsible way to incent consumers to make healthier choices.
3) The Deficit Reason
But let's say it doesn't change anybody's eating preferences. Let's say Americans keep paying a couple cents more for the same amount of Pepsi. Well then fine, I say, at least they're helping to pay down the federal deficit. I hear the argument that a sales tax on soda (or alcohol) would be regressive, taking a larger percentage of poorer people's income and striking at the less fortunate demographic that is more likely to buy lots of soda in the first place. But health care reform would use those billions of dollars -- a 3 cent tax per 12-ounce serving could generate $24 billion in four years -- to pay for Medicaid and health care subsidies for less fortunate Americans, anyway.
I should say that out of those, I find (3) to be most persuasive. Thompson makes the under-appreciated point that those of us who want to see more aggressive spending on progressive social investments should be concerned less with the progressivity of any particular tax and more with the progressivity of the public sector as a whole. That means if the only way to eventually pay for, say, a single payer health system is through more consumption-side taxes, then liberals should take that deal. This broadly describes the equilibrium in many European countries, where very progressive public sectors are financed by regressive VATs.
But that point is really just an incidental set-up to the real point of this post which is an all-important 4th reason to support a soda tax:
The latest Army statistics show a stunning 75 percent of military-age youth are ineligible to join the military because they are overweight, can't pass entrance exams, have dropped out of high school or had run-ins with the law.
So many young people between the prime recruiting ages of 17 and 24 cannot meet minimum standards that a group of retired military leaders is calling for more investment in early childhood education to combat the insidious effects of junk food and inadequate education."We've never had this problem of young people being obese like we have today," said Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Fighting obesity isn't just about diabetes and the ability to wear sporty, slim cut attire any more. It has become critical to our very national security.