This has been extensively discussed already in the blogosphere, but the following points are worth making:
- There is an inherent contradiction in any such Pigovian tax as, by definition, if it is successful in its objective it will yield little or no revenue. Using the tax system as a means to promote changes in behaviour is a blunt and inefficient instrument that is highly prone to unforeseen and unwanted consequences.
- While it’s hard to see people smuggling crisps, any tax system that imposes arbitrary cut-off points will inevitably lead to action by producers to get around it, as we are seeing with the new beer duty regime. Look forward to a whole raft of products in Denmark coming in at exactly 2.3% fat. These may well be even more “processed” than those they replace, and less palatable to boot.
- It goes completely against common sense to stigmatise such natural, traditional and wholesome foods as butter and cheese, especially as many experts (as quoted in the BBC report about Denmark) believe that “salt, sugar and refined carbohydrates are more detrimental to health”. It is a dangerous game to try to sort foodstuffs into the “healthy” and “unhealthy” as in reality, as has often been said, there are no unhealthy foods, only unhealthy diets. You might perceive fatty burgers as “unhealthy”, but you’d live a damn sight longer on a diet of fatty burgers than on a diet of lettuce and celery.
Cameron’s comments about a fat tax – which would target those great scourges of our age: ‘milk, cheese, pizza, meat, oil and processed food’ – were particularly striking, because they gave an insight into what this oligarchical political class thinks of those who live outside its bubble. We are not political subjects to be engaged with, apparently, but rather bovine objects to be physically tampered with, punished for our gluttony, pressured to ditch those gastro-pleasures which the political and media elites, as they discuss the horrors of sexist language over wine and vol-au-vents, have decreed to be ‘fattening’.You do have to wonder if eventually the worm will turn and give the politicians a nasty bite on the no-doubt well-padded and fat-laden bum.
Edit: there’s an excellent article here by Basham and Luik in which they arge that “fat taxes” and “sugar taxes” quite simply do not work, and indeed may lead to people eating less “healthily”, not more.