The Philadelphia soda tax is expected to pass tomorrow. But why is it necessary in the first place?

As usual, the soda industry has pumped millions into a campaign to stop the Philadelphia soda tax from passing into law. But they will likely fail; the law is expected to pass tomorrow.

A few thoughts.

When someone says of taxes such as these, “but government should not tamper with the free market!” remember, that with sugary beverages, the government already has. The reason such beverages are so inexpensive is government subsidies, i.e. tampering with the market, in the first place.

Progressives, who understand that food environments have more of an impact on the health of the vast majority of people than does “willpower” (as evidenced by the past 50 years of mass dieting failure), obviously celebrate the law. But free marketeers should, too: the tax does not limit choice, but brings it in line with the market, which, as they say, they celebrate in the first place. Right?

Right now we subsidize soft drinks, and then apply a tax to remove the subsidy. But how about, rather than this rather perverse and contradictory set of policies, we remove the subsidies in the first place? I think progressives and free market cheerleaders could all come to the table and agree on that.

But until the federal government steps up the plate and assumes leadership for putting an end to our food-related health crisis (and healthcare spending, and economic and political crises by extension…), a tax seems like the next best thing.

Congratulations Philadelphia: for doing what most of our other leaders seem too afraid to do.

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