A 'Fool' and His Sugar Sweetened Beverage Are Soon Taxed
Liverpool Law Review, 2017, Forthcoming
19 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2017
Date Written: March 4, 2017
Tax policy informed by Libertarian paternalism suggests that taxes should be levied on non-‘rational’ choice (ie, where a person makes a ‘foolish’ decision by their own internal standards). In respect of excise taxes on sugar sweetened beverages, the regressivity of such policies can then be justified by reference to a progressive health effect, since the poor are more sensitive to changes in price and disproportionately tend to consume sugar sweetened beverages. However, as it currently stands, that conclusion is based merely on a presumption of irrationality of the poor as a class and neither the relative price of goods subject to such taxes, nor the associated ‘welfare loss’ from the levy of the tax, have been systematically measured. Such a presumption of non-‘rationality’ in food choice only holds with respect to persons who are not bound by relative prices of food, namely the wealthy. Accordingly, it is reasonable for scholars to consider the levy of excise taxes on unhealthy food consumed primarily by the wealthy (eg, foie gras) as a ‘nudge’ toward a healthier food choice. Furthermore, the poor are rational agents capable of analysing and comparing relative prices of food products taking into account the health effects. As various scholars have now proposed in medical journals, any incremental tax levied on the poor in respect of sugar-sweetened beverages should be offset, for example, with a credit for healthy foods including fruits and vegetables.
Keywords: libertarian paternalism; internality; Pigouvian tax; psychologism; rational choice theory; sugar sweetened beverage; taxation
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