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Introducing The Fat Tax
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Nineteen
by Brian S. Wise
1 July 2003French Fries

Taxing the fat because they are fat: an idea whose time has come.


We will assume for the sake of argument that certain people will succeed in financially penalizing fast food restaurant chains for selling products detrimental to human health.  Then what?
           
Well, what comes next depends on how the money is to be paid, who will collect it and what kind of deal Big Fast Food cuts for itself in the process.  Let us say payment will come in the form of large annual stipends paid directly to the States, and that they will be disguised as, oh, repayments for money spent, via Medicare, to treat those who suffered from various fast food related illnesses over the years; heart problems, diabetes.  (Sound familiar?)  We will also assume that the stipend will be paid for a decade (because everything running off money seems to do so on decade-long cycles) and that as part of the deal, Big Fast Food is immune from any lawsuits that would have been filed, had the deal not been struck.  (In this hypothetical, just like in real life, none of the money goes directly to any single aggrieved fast food customer, no matter how diseased he has become from consumption of the Demon Fries.)
 
A decade passes, the States get and spend their money, the people continue to get fatter and fatter.  But over the course of the decade, various new programs, entitlements and mandates have been created on the expectation of the yearly Big Fast Food settlement check, and when the decade comes to a close, it suddenly occurs to the States that these programs, entitlements and mandates cannot end simply because there is no more money.  Maybe it would be best for the stipend to continue as before, say the States, but for an undetermined number of years to follow.  Big Fast Food will bristle and the legal floodgates will open; not only will the States be suing, but so will countless individuals and groups, until the entire industry is mired in countless hearings and trials, judgments, appeals, et cetera.  Eventually, the industry will be regulated into a quivering mess.  (Sound familiar?)
           
Meanwhile, the greatest cash cow in all of this is being ignored: the customer.  It is the customer, after all, who insists on eating the accursed fast food in the first place, even though they know it is bad for them.  (Imagine the sheer virulence!)  What happened when cigarettes were finally made the most popular target was that the States raised the taxes on them, some States to staggering levels – seven dollars per pack in New York City (comedian Dave Attell laments that for three dollars more, he could be smoking crack).  But you cannot effectively tax fast food the way you can cigarettes.  All cigarettes are the Devil’s work, of course, and can all be taxed without exception, as there is no lesser degree of evil in cigarettes.  Some of the products produced by Big Fast Food can be better for you (salads, grilled chicken), so to tax them at the same rate you would tax fries is … well … unfair.  And besides, passing a tax on individual fast food items is shortsighted.  Government should go for the big fish.  Literally.
 
Today I am suggesting a fat tax.  Not on fast food fat, but on fat people.  After all, the government has all these charts and standards suggesting the ideal weight in proportion to one’s height; what the hell good are they when you can’t make any money off of them?
           
It would work like this: Starting next quarter, someone will come to your house with a scale, a tape measure and one of those government height / weight charts.  For every pound you are over the official standard, you will be taxed ten dollars for that quarter. 
 
Options: You can pay the entire amount then and there with either cash or a credit / debit card; please, no checks.  Or, you can divide the total tax debt into 13 weekly installment payments, each payment to be sent directly to the United States treasury by money order or a credit / debit card number; as was previously said, please, no checks.  Then your debt is paid … that is, until the fat tax collector comes around again, at the beginning of the next quarter.  The beautiful thing about this fat tax is that it will primarily fall on the shoulders of the poor fat people as opposed to the rich fat people, who can afford liposuction, or a heroin addiction, or both.

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