Should the government regulate unhealthy foods?

That was the question asked in a long piece by the Congressional Quarterly Researcher a few days ago.  I had several nice conversations with Robert Kiener, the author of the piece, and was pleased he included a few of my thoughts.  

The article had a page (pg. 833) with alternative viewpoints responding to the question: "should the government tax sugary soda?"  Writing in favor was Michael Jacobson with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Writing in opposition was yours truly.  Jacobson repeatedly refers to "big soda's" talking points, but my views are my own and I have no financial ties to the soda or sugar industries.  I began by writing:

Should the government tax sugared soda? It already does. Farm policies make U.S. sugar prices two to three times higher than elsewhere. Moreover, ethanol policies have led to a more than doubling of the price of high fructose corn syrup since 2005. Its no wonder that per capita sugar consumption has fallen precipitously over the last decade.

You can read the rest for my other thoughts.  

On the sugar policy issue, I'll note this paper just released by Beghin and Elobeid in the journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy on the effects of sugar policy.  They write on the effects of the removal of US sugar policy.  They estimate the removal of the sugar program would lead to a roughly 30% reduction in the US price of refined sugar.  They write: 

The removal of the sugar program would increase U.S. consumers’ welfare by $2.9 to $3.5 billion each year and generate a modest job creation of 17,000 to 20,000 new jobs in food manufacturing and related industries. Imports of sugar containing products would fall dramatically, especially confectioneries substituting for domestic inputs under the sugar program. Sugar imports would rise substantially to 5–6 million short tons raw sugar equivalent. World sugar price increases would be minor, equivalent to about 1 cent per pound.

The interesting dichotomy (dare I say, irony) is that the ~$3 billion in consumer benefits estimated from the above study come about because of lower sugar prices that would arise if US sugar policy were eliminated. But, it seems sugar price advocates think just the opposite: rising sugar prices will somehow benefit consumers.  We can't have it both ways.  Either falling sugar prices help or hurt consumers.  I don't know about you, but I prefer paying lower prices.