As Congress (and allegedly the White House) kick around the idea of a sin tax on sugar-laden beverages of no nutritional value – namely sodas, of course – disinterested observer and Coca Cola CEO Muthar Kent recently made a statement that proves absurd on several levels. Bloomberg.com relays his comments as follows:
Coca-Cola Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent said the idea of a federal tax on soft drinks, under consideration by the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama, is “outrageous.”
“I have never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink,” Kent said today, responding to an audience question at the Rotary Club of Atlanta. “If it worked, the Soviet Union would still be around."
If there is a lamer or more transparently juvenile way to defend a right-wing argument than by invoking the Soviet Union – which serves as a combination Red Herring, Straw Man, and false dilemma – I don't know what it is. It has surpassed Reductio ad Hitlerum as the favored fallacy of irrelevance given our new "socialist" President and a nation full of people who don't know what socialism is but are quite sure it's going to rape their daughters. But there are some very good reasons why Mr. Kent should tread more lightly than most in bashing centralized planning.
Our government doesn't tell people what to drink – although "suggestions" abound in the form of dietary guidelines and public health campaigns – but it sure as hell has spent the last century telling them what to grow. Namely corn. Metric shitloads of corn. The Federal government pays people to grow corn. It pays people not to grow corn. It pays people to think about growing corn. This is neither debatable nor controversial, having entered the mainstream of political knowledge with the ethanol debate and popular edutainment like the film Food, Inc. or books like Fast Food Nation, Animal Vegetable Miracle, or The Omnivore's Dilemma. Government policy has rewarded farmers (OK, agribuisness) for growing heathen quantities of corn without regard for the market or consequences and has thus engineered the flooding of the planet with mountains of cheap corn.
No person or entity has benefited more from this legislatively-mandated glut of cheap corn than the soft drink industry dominated by Mr. Kent's company. The pro-corn policy (Cornservative policy? Yes, I like that better.) has created an entire industry of chemists and biologists dedicated to finding some way to use all this shit that Congress pays farmers to grow. One of their earliest successes, aided heavily by the legislatively mandated ban on Cuban sugarcane, was corn-based liquid sweeteners. Expensive sugar would have produced expensive soda but cheap corn syrup produces oceans of cheap soda. And to call corn sweeteners "cheap" is an understatement. The market is so saturated that we could feasibly fill Lake Baikal with Karo for about $50.
OK, not quite that cheap. But the point is that the government has spent a century "telling people what to drink." It has been telling them to drink Coke by going to great lengths at public expense to ensure that a two-liter soda is half the price of a half-gallon of orange juice (which, if from concentrate, has corn in it anyway). Maybe Comrade Kent should thank the Politburo for raiding the public till to help his Collective Beverage Farm push its 200 calorie cans of corn syrup on the lard-assed Proletariat with no risk of failure. Raise your Sprite to the Motherland!