Friday, 10 April 2009

Soda taxes in New England Journal of Medicine

The latest round in the debate over soda taxes, discussed earlier, is an editorial this week in the New England Journal of Medicine by Yale professor Kelly Brownell and New York City health commissioner Thomas Frieden.

The ironic opening quotation:
Sugar, rum, and tobacco are commodities which are nowhere necessaries of life, which are become objects of almost universal consumption, and which are therefore extremely proper subjects of taxation.

— Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776
Will Saletan nicely summarizes Brownell and Friedan's argument in a Slate commentary that oozes disdain but makes no counter-arguments. The reader can supply them, I guess.

Brownell and Friedan point out that prices have risen faster for fruits and vegetables than for soft drinks. Here is my version of this finding, from a talk last Fall:
Relative prices have risen for fruits and vegetables, in the long term, according to the CPI.

Perhaps Brownell and Friedan's idea is not to increase the relative price of soft drinks, but merely to give fruits and vegetables and other good stuff the same level of playing field that they had formerly.

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