Sugar – The Political Football

First we must stipulate that no consumer was force-fed sugar during the writing and research of this blog. Consumers were merely given all the sugar they wanted at a true market price.  Unlike in our politicized nanny-state environment, no one was denied sugar, and no one was overcharged for it.

The state and local sugar nannies have been active indeed. They are determined to impair your right to consume sugar by making it more expensive than it needs to be.  They want sugar prices hiked through sugar-specific taxes or through constricting the quantity you can conveniently buy.  Many want you to equate sugar with shame because they treat sugar as a politically correct surrogate for obesity.

In normal homes, consumers don’t hyperventilate when sugar is the topic. But activists at the extremes cannot see straight if consumers are allowed to participate in a free marketplace for sugar.  Some activists twist arms in the Congress to subsidize American sugar by maintaining an import quota and an import tariff wall that gives American sugar producers a bigger margin that would otherwise be the case. The domestic sugar industry is the sole beneficiary of that scam, and of course consumers pay the extra price.

Other extremists feel compelled to impair consumers’ freedom to consume sugar under marketplace conditions. Their arrogance convinces them that they know what’s better for American consumers than American consumers do.  The usual cudgel for imposing their will on neighbors is influence over the city council or a ballot box initiative.  Wisconsin wisely halted that meddling by enacting a ban on sugary drink bans.

Both San Francisco and Berkeley California had November 2014 ballot initiatives on sugary soft-drinks. Both sought to impose a tax on those drinks which is not imposed on other foods ($0.12 per soda can in Berkeley and $0.02 in San Francisco).   Much of the pro-sugar tax lobbying was framed as protecting children.  Evidently Berkeley activists don’t think Berkeley parents are savvy enough to raise children.

Berkeley’s tax was approved by 75% of voters but San Francisco’s was not approved. Before the election, already “three dozen states and the cities of Chicago and Washington, D.C., ha[d] implemented small, special taxes on sugary drinks sold in grocery stores and in vending machines

Mayor Bloomberg’s famous sugary soda container campaign was different. He allegedly wanted to reduce New Yorker’s obesity rate by restricting the maximum size of sugary soda containers that could be bought in restaurants and fast food take-outs.  The tactic was full of obvious leaks; e.g. buy multiple containers of soda, switch to candy bars or ice cream, or drink gallons of soda at home.  The smaller container gambit was so silly we assume he never expected it to become law.  More likely he was harvesting publicity to focus attention on the real issue — sane diets.  Not all politicians are that canny.

The sugar wars are not over. Wherever there are novice food police or activists between obsessions, sugar will be there to provide meaning in their lives.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research

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