Soda and food stamps


in Economics, Law, Politics, Writing

William Saletan has written a very odd article for Slate, responding to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to make soda ineligable for purchase with food stamps. I think he intends to argue against the plan, but all his piece does is list the arguments in favour of it.

He points out the severity of America’s problem with obesity, as well as the argument that it is more justifiable to restrict how consumers can use food stamps than it is to restrict what they can do with their own money. He cites Robert Doar’s argument that “[g]overnment should not be in the business of subsidizing poor health habits that end up costing taxpayers through higher Medicaid and Medicare costs” and makes reference to how soda is “nutritionally empty.”

Saletan seems to be personally offended by these arguments – especially the notion that soda is a ‘product’ rather than a ‘food’ and that it is in any way like alcohol or tobacco – but he never really articulates why, beyond vague suggestions of libertarian displeasure. He argues that excluding soda from the set of foods that can be purchased with food stamps would “help… to push soda out of the food category and into a category with alcohol and tobacco, where it can be taxed and restricted more easily.”

What’s the problem with that?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. October 20, 2010 at 9:05 am

The nanny state?

Tristan October 20, 2010 at 9:55 am

The nanny state? How about the nanny-corporations, which spends millions to produce desires in subjects so that they consume the products which bring profits to the few?

This is essentially the problem with Randian, right-wing libertarianism. It sees the coercive aspects of the state, but ignores the coercive power of non-state actors. In order to move towards a non-coercive state (and, just like the Randians, ever anarcho-communist wants this), one first needs to dismantle corporate power. And, at least at the early stages, no one can do that but the state.

alena October 20, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I personally do not see anything wrong with not allowing people to buy soft drinks with food stamps, but where would such a rule lead? There are so many unhealthy foods and artificial foods on the shelves that many of them are not fit for human consumption . That does not make them less attractive because the consumer is easily persuaded to buy or simply addicted to the chemicals and additives. There would just be too many things to control and it would be just too complex. Until the manufacturer develops a conscience about their product and people lose their self-destructive tendencies, not much will happen to the sugar loaded soft drink.

BuddyRich October 20, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Would a ban include diet soda? It would fit all the same criteria of regular soda, save that it doesn’t cause obesity when consumed in excess.

Apart from the anti-aspartame crowd who think aspartame is worse than full sugar (or HFCS) its much harder to argue against banning the purchase of diet soda with the stamps.

And if soda is banned, why not cookies, or anything but fruits and veggies and lean meats like chicken or fish or some cuts of pork?

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