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Why Can’t I Just Eat My Salty Chips?

May 23, 2009

You know what’s so good about living in a democracy? There’s no king or other type of ruler who can dictate your private affairs like, for instance, what you eat. Eh, until Obama was crowned head of state that is:

President Obama has named Thomas Frieden, the New York City health commissioner who championed a ban on artificial trans fats, as the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Frieden’s campaign forced McDonald’s to change the way it cooks french fries — you may have noticed the taste — and he has lately called for all restaurants to use less salt. Let’s hope he spends at least some of his time considering flu pandemics and bioterrorism.

In any case, when Dr. Frieden arrives in Washington, he’ll find an ally in Michael Jacobson, head of the Naderite Center for Science in the Public Interest. Mr. Jacobson has made a career attacking ethnic restaurants, fast-food chains and grocery manufacturers for allegedly unhealthy fare. While he may be the last guy you’d want at your barbecue, Mr. Jacobson was recently an honored guest at Senate Finance. At a hearing to brainstorm on ways to pay for Mr. Obama’s new health-care entitlement, Mr. Jacobson recommended that Congress enact a 50% reduction in the salt content of America’s food supply, a tax of up to one cent per ounce on soft drinks, and a tripling of the federal excise tax on beer, to roughly 16 cents a can.

You know, in France there used to be a tax on salt called la gabelle: citizens were obliged to buy a minimum amount of salt at a fixed price every week. It didn’t endear the respective monarch to the French peuple and was abolished after the revolution. Looks like we’re headed for a repetition of history with a slight twist: salt consumption will be capped at the top and the tax will be imposed on sugary drinks and beer. Of course, with the state soon to be in charge of your medical care they have all the right to set the rules for your diet. It’s like Obama becoming the de facto CEO of private companies which have accepted tax money. (Oddly, the administration also meddles with the compensation policies of private businesses which haven’t received any dole.)

The strategy to levy taxes on allegedly unhealthy activities in order to raise revenue for a health care system that will always be in need of money is of course a bad one. The increased tax on cigarettes, for instance, will hardly reduce health care costs enough to justify the tax on a mere ‘cost reduction’ argument. If this attempt to curb the consumption of tobacco will be successful it will also add to the financing gap in the government’s health care programmes. So obviously with historic deficits, historic debt and historic plans for the future, Monsieur Obama wants you to continue smoking, as he will want you to continue drinking diet Pepsi and Belgian-owned American beer once they are more heavily taxed. This is cynical, you say? C’est vrai, the French Cowboy says, but it’s actually still better than the alternative that President Obama really is concerned about your eating habits. Because in that case you would have to fear that Michelle Obama will confiscate all the donuts and throw them away singing: “For your salt it’s la gabelle, for your donuts la poubelle!”

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