Last week the good people at Centre for Authoritarian Ideas – otherwise known as the Grattan Institute – released a report suggesting that Australia should have a sugar tax. The Institute said in its media release:
The best option is an excise tax of 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar, on all non-alcoholic, water-based drinks that contain added sugar.
Such a tax would increase the price of a two-litre bottle of soft drink by about 80 cents, raise about $500 million a year, and generate a fall of about 15 per cent in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, as consumers switched to water and other drinks not subject to the new tax.
Obesity costs Australian taxpayers more than $5.3 billion a year. Obese people are more likely to go to doctors and be admitted to hospital more often than other people. They are also more likely to be unemployed and therefore paying less tax than the rest of the population.
These costs – more taxpayer dollars spent on healthcare and welfare, and less tax raised – are caused by obesity but borne by the entire community. The new tax would help redress that imbalance.
This report follows a concerted campaign (with handy other marketing spin-offs) by Jamie Oliver and other self-promoting nanny state advocates such as Sarah Wilson author of, “I quit sugar” to introduce a sugar tax. The Greens, never ones to miss an opportunity to sneer at the working class have adopted this stupidity as policy. Even the “Liberal” party has said it’s considering it.
In particular, there are two lines of arguments made by the Grattan Institute that I object to. First, that it is legitimate to limit individual freedom for the sake of the healthcare budget. If Grattan believes that it is unjust for the healthcare system to pay the cost of people’s poor decisions, then they should advocate for the privatisation of healthcare system or some form of adjusted premium system. How many people injure themselves running marathons, playing sports or cycling? All these things cost the healthcare system yet the media and policy establishment focus on certain life choices and not others.
The second argument I object to is that the claim that obese people are more likely to be unemployed and pay less tax, and that a sugar tax would help redress this. Or put another way, poor fat people are leaners not lifters. The level of hypocrisy of the regressive left is astounding, when Joh Hockey made similar arguments about the burden of taxation the same policy elite screamed murder.
It’s also noteworthy that this sugar tax is a tax on non-alcoholic drinks and not other products with large amounts of sugar. According to Coke’s website there is 11 grams per 100 ml of sugar in a can of Coke. So that’s 38.5 grams in a can of coke. Now according to some estimates the average acai bowl has 40 grams of sugar in it. Of course an acai bowl have far more nutritional value than a can of coke, but, it goes to show what a blunt instrument sin taxes are.
This kind of middle class sneering at working plebs isn’t new. George Orwell wrote about it in The Road to Wigan Pier:
The miner’s family spend only ten pence a week on green vegetables and ten pence half-penny on milk (remember that one of them is a child less than three years old), and nothing on fruit; but they spend one and nine on sugar (about eight pounds of sugar, that is) and a shilling on tea. The half-crown spent on meat might represent a small joint and the materials for a stew; probably as often as not it would represent four or five tins of bully beef. The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes – an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. […] When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’.
I’m sure that the sneering elites would love Damo and Shaza to start baking their own gluten-free pumpkin bread. But, in reality that won’t happen. The truth is healthy choices are already cheap and available. Fresh foods were left out of the GST so it would win the Australian Democrats’ approval. It is already a defacto fat tax.
Normal non-organic fruit and vegetables are far cheaper than processed foods. Water is practically free and yet people still drink Coke. Maybe because they like it. I would recommend that families buy a SodaStream and substitute soda water for Coke, but, since the Left boycott Israel that’s probably not allowed either.
Fundamentally, this proposed sugar tax isn’t really a sugar tax at all. Socially acceptable sugar consumption won’t be taxed, in reality what is proposed is a fat bogan tax. They won’t be taxing vegan raw cheesecakes made with rice syrup.
In a free society people should be able to make their own life choices. Concerns about public health are a small fig leaf of an argument, once removed all you will find is bigotry.
Justin Campbell is on the executive committee of LibertyWorks