Monday, January 23, 2017

Are Soda taxes a Tax Regressive Health Failure?

From the Jayson Lusk, a food and agricultural economist, is a new post of his in which he points to new research by Emily Wang et al and in which he points out as he has again and again:

"First, even if we believe people suffer from various behavioral biases, higher prices almost certainly make people worse off.  Second, when we raise the price of one unhealthy thing, people might substitute to consume other unhealthy things.  Third, if the tax is just added at the checkout counter and not on the shelf display, it may not have nearly the effect on purchase behavior as assumed.  Forth, if people know the reason for the tax, some may "protest" and buy more instead.  Fifth, the projected weight loss from such taxes often relies on unreasonable rules of thumb like 3500kcal=1lb. Six, even when taxes have an effect, the causal impact may arise more from an "information effect" rather than a "price effect."  Seventh, such taxes may induce unanticipated effects because of how sellers respond to the policy.  Finally, soda taxes are regressive - having a proportionally larger effect on on lower income households (see also my co-authored paper on effects of "unhealthy" food taxes more generally)."

Cook County passed a soda tax in 2016 and the idea is being floated in the Illinois General Assembly.  I do not drink soda pop, because it contains high fructose corn syrup and I prefer brown sugar, although I have never been a fan of too much sugar in food and often cut sugar amounts in recipes.  Taxing "sugar", more likely high fructose corn syrup, will in crease tax revenue but it is unlikely to make people more healthy and the argument the tax will decrease obesity should be discarded as a political excuse to impose a regressive tax on lower income citizens.


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