Economists weight in on sugar tax

Tamar Haspel has another sensible article in the Washington Post, this time on the potential effects of a soda tax.

She interviewed a slew of top food and agricultural economists, and by and large, I agree with most of what they had to say.  There were three points I would have added.

First, Haspel discusses the potential of sugar (rather than soda) taxes without mentioning the fact that sugar is ALREADY taxed (indirectly via various government programs).  Here's what I wrote in a short piece for the Congressional Quarterly on the issue:

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. It’s no wonder that per capita sugar consumption has fallen precipitously over the last decade.

Second, while Haspel mentions a quote from the industry that the taxes are "unfair", she doesn't mention that they're regressive -meaning  the costs being born relatively more by those who can least afford to pay them.  Yes, we need to raise government revenue some way, but as I've noted before, even some good economists seem to miss the fact that we should choose taxes in a way to minimize dead weight loss, not how taxes feel or appeal to a particular cause.

Finally, despite acknowledging that soda taxes are likely to have very little benefits, Haspel concludes,

If the choice is to do this or do nothing, I choose this.

I'm sorry, but if my choice is between nothing and a policy that is paternalistic, regressive, will create economic distortions and deadweight loss, and is unlikely to have any significant effects on public health, I choose nothing.