Is Bloomberg right calling for regressive sales tax that hits the poor?

Is Michael Bloomberg, the freshly minted Democrat candidate for the presidency, right in his call to raise taxes on the poor?  And to be clear, the former New York City mayor is speaking about raising sales taxes on so-called vice products like cigarettes and sugary soft drinks.  His thinking here is that this would force low-income people to make better health choices by cutting back on sugary drinks and tobacco, thus allowing them to be healthier.

Does Bloomberg have a case?  He might...in theory, anyway.  In practice, however, increasing these sales taxes may yield only marginal behavior changes due to loopholes and workarounds.  Some will say any improvement helps, which is true.  But there's a bigger issue here.  It's the near knee-jerk reaction of the conservative world to condemn Bloomberg's proposal.  Their argument is that this is an example of the nanny state infringing on individual freedom.  It's the dreaded Cass Sunstein idea of using government to nudge people into "better" behavior.  

The reaction of many of the right to Bloomberg's soft drink tax is a microcosm showing how deeply radical individualism has affected conservative thought.  Conservatism and libertarianism are not synonymous, although many on the right like Kevin Williamson at National Review and the Koch brothers seem to equate the two.  Libertarians want to maximize individual freedom and rights, often at the expense of any other concerns.  Generally speaking, conservatives want to keep government at a manageable level while at the same time protecting and even promoting institutions like family, community, religion, and nationhood.

Unfettered individualism is poison to true conservatism.  It is what has brought us things like abortion (a mother's convenience over the life of her unborn child), gender identity ("I am what I say I am"), legalized same-sex "marriage" (based on Justice Kennedy's extreme views of individual rights), excessive rights for criminals, and globalism (free-market fundamentalism).  These all weaken and degrade the cohesion of society.  And since man is a social animal, they are not good.

Here's another aspect of that Bloomberg regressive tax on the poor.  As much as libertarians loathe the idea, the fact is that many people cannot handle the responsibility that comes with freedom.  Laws and regulations have to be made for the average person, not for the more exceptional among us, if society is to click.  Maximization of individual rights eventually leads to anarchy, which then results in an authoritarian response.  That is human nature as people need a certain level of security and predictability in their lives in order to function. 

A flaw in our capitalist system as it is now structured is that corporations get to dump the long-term cost of the use of their products onto society.  Take high-carbohydrate/high-sugar foods and drinks as an example.  There is no doubt that over-consumption of these products leads to health problems — mainly diabetes and heart disease.  Yet when the poor come down with these problems, General Mills, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and others in the food industry aren't the ones picking up the tab, as, to some extent, the tobacco companies have been forced to.  Society is.

In light of all this, Bloomberg's idea is not as off base as it might seem at first blush.  Whether he's right or wrong is debatable.  The bigger point to keep in mind is that individual rights should not be taken as an absolute good, nor should free-market fundamentalism.

Photo credit: Chad J. McNeeley.

Is Michael Bloomberg, the freshly minted Democrat candidate for the presidency, right in his call to raise taxes on the poor?  And to be clear, the former New York City mayor is speaking about raising sales taxes on so-called vice products like cigarettes and sugary soft drinks.  His thinking here is that this would force low-income people to make better health choices by cutting back on sugary drinks and tobacco, thus allowing them to be healthier.

Does Bloomberg have a case?  He might...in theory, anyway.  In practice, however, increasing these sales taxes may yield only marginal behavior changes due to loopholes and workarounds.  Some will say any improvement helps, which is true.  But there's a bigger issue here.  It's the near knee-jerk reaction of the conservative world to condemn Bloomberg's proposal.  Their argument is that this is an example of the nanny state infringing on individual freedom.  It's the dreaded Cass Sunstein idea of using government to nudge people into "better" behavior.  

The reaction of many of the right to Bloomberg's soft drink tax is a microcosm showing how deeply radical individualism has affected conservative thought.  Conservatism and libertarianism are not synonymous, although many on the right like Kevin Williamson at National Review and the Koch brothers seem to equate the two.  Libertarians want to maximize individual freedom and rights, often at the expense of any other concerns.  Generally speaking, conservatives want to keep government at a manageable level while at the same time protecting and even promoting institutions like family, community, religion, and nationhood.

Unfettered individualism is poison to true conservatism.  It is what has brought us things like abortion (a mother's convenience over the life of her unborn child), gender identity ("I am what I say I am"), legalized same-sex "marriage" (based on Justice Kennedy's extreme views of individual rights), excessive rights for criminals, and globalism (free-market fundamentalism).  These all weaken and degrade the cohesion of society.  And since man is a social animal, they are not good.

Here's another aspect of that Bloomberg regressive tax on the poor.  As much as libertarians loathe the idea, the fact is that many people cannot handle the responsibility that comes with freedom.  Laws and regulations have to be made for the average person, not for the more exceptional among us, if society is to click.  Maximization of individual rights eventually leads to anarchy, which then results in an authoritarian response.  That is human nature as people need a certain level of security and predictability in their lives in order to function. 

A flaw in our capitalist system as it is now structured is that corporations get to dump the long-term cost of the use of their products onto society.  Take high-carbohydrate/high-sugar foods and drinks as an example.  There is no doubt that over-consumption of these products leads to health problems — mainly diabetes and heart disease.  Yet when the poor come down with these problems, General Mills, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and others in the food industry aren't the ones picking up the tab, as, to some extent, the tobacco companies have been forced to.  Society is.

In light of all this, Bloomberg's idea is not as off base as it might seem at first blush.  Whether he's right or wrong is debatable.  The bigger point to keep in mind is that individual rights should not be taken as an absolute good, nor should free-market fundamentalism.

Photo credit: Chad J. McNeeley.