Orwell's 1984 has come and gone, but Big Brother still is alive and active

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
April 21, 2002

Think about your kitchen; it is one of the most exciting rooms in your house. All those exciting flavors and textures'a well-stocked kitchen can be the source of some of the most exciting and pleasurable parts of your life.

That is, unless you live in California.

California senator, Deborah Ortiz, introduced a bill that would impose a 'sin tax' on soft drinks. She wants to discourage obesity. The proceeds of the tax would be used for medical care and to bribe schools to remove soft drink vending machines. Senator Ortiz, whose family has a history of diabetes, does not intend to levy the tax on diet drinks or (my favorite) V-8; she only wants to tax the evil caramel-colored, sugar water beverages.

Two years ago, I wrote of the dangerous precedent set by the state tobacco settlement with the cigarette companies. Most people (like me) do not smoke cigarettes, so it is easy for us to ignore an additional tax on a pack of smokes. It is easy to allow the government to demonize some minority group (like smokers), as long as you aren't a member of that group.

This is still a philosophical discussion for me; I am one of the few people in the world who has never consumed a Coke or Pepsi. (Although I do not smoke or drink colas, my personal vice is already well-regulated and heavily taxed.) I have no idea what a New Coke, Coca-Cola Classic or Pepsi taste like. For years, however, I have wondered why the government can justify picking on the tobacco industry for the medical costs created by the legal use of its product, while ignoring the heart disease resulting from the use of fried cheese in the growing sprawl of America's fern bars. Why not sue automobile manufactures for the costs associated with drunk driving? (Of course, taken to its extreme, a litigious society might choose to sue its school systems for producing twelfth grade graduates who are so stupid as to make horrible life decisions, but that exercise would be just the taxpayer suing himself. Sort of like the Knox County Commission and School Board.) When I think about the budget problem in the state of Tennessee, it is easy for me to favor taxes on cigarettes, soft drinks and broccoli; I don't like any of them.

Too many elected officials decide to serve as nanny for the collective society. I do not give my children colas. Neither do I give them cigarettes or fully functioning nuclear weapons. To my knowledge, there is no law that prohibits me from taking my son into the woods (outside the city limits) on a clear Saturday morning and nuking a few squirrels. I reached this decision without any coercion (either via the tax or criminal code) from the government.

For years, the states were complicit partners with the tobacco industry, profiting billions of dollars from annual cigarette taxes. Several years ago, most of these taxing authorities decided they would like to more fully participate in the profitability of this industry; they negotiated an additional profit sharing component to their partnership with the tobacco companies. Most citizens did not complain, because most people do not smoke. But when a society freely surrenders the rights of its minority citizens (such as smokers), it reduces the rights of all of its citizens. How much difference is there between government discouraging the consumption of certain beverages and discouraging the consumption of certain books? Do not be quick to dismiss this possibility; who would have ever imagined a punitive surtax on Dr. Pepper?

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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