Belmont Club

Kobayashi Maru

San Francisco has banned the sale of calorically sweetened beverages, including sports drinks and artificially sweetened water on city property. “Juices must be 100 percent fruits or vegetables with no added sweeteners.”  Other local governments are considering similar measures. Michigan, for example, is considering a tax on soda pop. Although “using food as a weapon” has long been denounced by the Left, they are not above using food as a political issue.  For example, the Daily Kos inveighs against the danger of high fructose corn syrup.

Still in doubt about the innocence of high fructose corn syrup? I Like my corn fresh, hot and slathered with buttery Earth Balance and doused with a little salt and pepper. I like it yellow, white, bicolor and bumpy. I like it in a husk, ready for shucking out on the deck. I liked it popped, and I like it ground into cornmeal for awesome corn sticks and corn bread. I don’t like it sweetening my breakfast cereal, my catsup, my soda, my candy, my cookies, my ice tea or my bread. I don’t like it in my salad dressing. And now that I understand that high-fructose corn syrup is a chemically altered corn derivative that delivers intense, shelf-stable sweetness to nearly every commercial food product available in American grocery stores, I am outraged.

Government is increasingly in the business of telling people what to eat.  A coalition of health advocates and bureaucrats see taxes on “sinful” foods as a good way to attain social goals and raise taxes.  The Baltimore Sun write: “the way a group of leading nutritionists and economists sees it, taxing sugar-sweetened beverages could lead to smaller waistlines, expanded government coffers and big savings on health care costs.”  Now that the public stake in health insurance has grown government can argue with increasing justification that the gustatory, as well as the personal, is  political. The Department of Health and Human Services website says some researchers call soda taxes a “win-win” situation. “What better way to accomplish both lowering health care costs through obesity prevention and funding expansion of health insurance coverage than to add a tax to unhealthy foods,” one said.

If sugary drinks become the new cigarettes the American Beverage Association bids fair to become the new Big Tobacco bogeyman. Wikipedia writes: “fighting the creation of soft drink taxes, the American Beverage Association, the largest US trade organization for soft drink bottlers, has spent considerable money to lobby Congress. The Association’s annual lobbying spending rose from about $391,000 to more than $690,000 from 2003 to 2008. And, in the 2010 election cycle, its lobbying grew more than 1000 percent to $8.67 million. These funds are helping to pay for 25 lobbyists at seven different lobbying firms.”

Against these seemingly impressive sums are the vast amounts the soft drink taxes could bring in. The Baltimore Sun continues: “in a report published in today’s New England Journal of Medicine …Yale’s Kelly D. Brownell, tries to make the case for a 1 percent per ounce excise tax on caloric sodas, fruit drinks and other beverages containing high-fructose corn syrup. ” Just how much of a case does it make in terms of money? About $15 billion worth.

They say the tax would increase the cost of a 20-ounce soft drink by 15 to 20 percent. And based on the economic principle of price elasticity, when the price of soda has risen by 10 percent, consumption has dropped by an average of 8 percent. People who cut out those calories are likely not to replace many of them, the researchers said, and could lose a significant amount of weight.

A national tax of the sort they recommend could raise $14.9 BILLION in the first year, money that could go toward nutrition or obesity prevention programs. They estimate such a tax would generate $284.5 million in Maryland in the first year.

Taxing incorrect behavior is a “win-win” situation in other ways.  By acquiring power over people’s lives and amassing money at the same time, activists potentially position themselves to seize even more power and money.  It snowballs. Even as people’s waistlines and billfolds shrink, government’s girth expands. The power to resist declines in inverse proportion to the the ever-expanding scope of public intervention. The progressive expansion of power is the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone. It gives itself the ends to its means. Dennis Prager optimistically argues that the “world opinion” machine has been breaking itself for years on bedrock American conservatism. “A vigorous conservative part of the American population has contempt for ‘world opinion,’ rightly regarding it as useless against real evil and as a mere reflection of Leftist views.” And he has high hopes for the “tiny … conservative media [that] … have made an impact that belies their numbers.” Maybe.

But Dan Riehl is not so sure.  He argues that the Left is now using the Internet to direct its armies of activists, seeking out weaknesses and maneuvering for advantage. “The DNC gets new media in ways the GOP still refuses to embrace. It’s intent on controlling the narrative, while the DNC is more interested in fueling constituent and blog-based activism from the Left. Democrat-aligned parties have also funded the mechanisms to accomplish it. You can go to even deeply Red districts and find an activist infrastructure on the Left, often blog-based. Meanwhile, GOP campaigns pay consultants to send out annoying spam emails to every blogger under the sun.”  Maybe soon there will be no escape from the pursuing activists or the blanket acceptance of “world opinion”. And eventually, however hardy it may be, the unceasing stream of high pressure water will smash up the conservative bedrock or divide into the digestible pieces. Unless …

People find a way to invent their own self-empowering machine.  One of unanswered questions of the modern world is whether there exists a sustainable process for generating public participation in ways that counteract the centralizing power of bureaucracies. In other words, is there some force which can successfully resist the smashing, irresistible pull of bureaucratic gravity that either finishes up in a Black Hole or forces things outward in a climactic explosion? Something which can establish a balance between creative chaos and ordnung?

One of the few conservative organizations that have set themselves the task of developing Internet tools to develop direct action is the Tocqueville Project. It is founded on the idea that if people are allowed to organize themselves without going through an apparatus — a vanguard party, or a cadre of activists — that the result where people get cues from each other is qualitatively different from one in which they are handed talking points from a self-appointed elite. I should confess at the outset that I’m helping them out.  Right now the project is looking for a few volunteers, talented programmers mostly, with an interest in tapping the creativity of crowds. One immediate need is for someone with experience to help set up Git version control to handle open-source contributions. Right now it is about as rag-tag as the “tiny … conservative media”.  But who knows? Maybe it will get somewhere.

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