Posted by: Jack | November 3, 2008

I Can Solve All of Our Problems

…with one simple, common-sense-rooted idea after another. Or at least I like to think so.

So here’s my latest:

Take a few philosophy courses and sooner or later you’ll reach the discussion of good vs. evil; more specifically, a discussion of how these polarizing categories are defined. If you subscribe to any of the major religions du jour, you might believe that these definitions are handed down from above. But when it comes to practical applications, such morality has little influence on modern systems of justice. In fact, the relationship is quite the inverse.

With all that is known of our universe, there is nothing to suggest that certain human activities are naturally right or wrong. But in the era of civilization, a society without law does not persist. A simple example is theft. Most (if not all) civilizations have reached the conclusion that failure to discourage this act is detrimental to the whole. And so, punishments are enacted.

Looking specifically at our own system, a common repercussion of lesser crimes is for the guilty party to offset the burden they’ve put on society with a financial contribution to public funds (a fine). This makes a lot of sense. Since it is impossible to prevent a majority of crimes, we instead lay down policy in which everyone is free to do what they want, knowing that actions which are deemed harmful to society come with costs/consequences.

Tobacco is a great example. We don’t refer to it as criminalized but rather strongly regulated. But really, the difference is only in how we all look upon the perpetrators. We put an enormous tax on tobacco, which aids in dealing with the even larger burden that is the health consequences of tobacco. Interestingly, this is actually a more effective system than criminalization because people get away with plenty of crimes, but it’s relatively rare that someone manages to buy tobacco without paying the tax. This point carries strongly into the legalization of marijuana debate but I’m not going down that road today.

Where am I going with all of this? Fast food, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.

Tobacco has been shoved to the back burner of public interest as obesity is sky rocketing. The societal effects of the two are parallel in that the habits of some inflate health care costs for all. So why is it that we treat the issues so differently? Simply because the issue hasn’t been prevalent long enough for the masses to conclude that the damage to the whole outweighs the value of our constitutional rights as individuals. But it clearly does.

What’s my simple idea? Tax unhealthy restaurant food. There is plenty of available knowledge regarding nutrition to provide objective categorization of menu items that are sufficiently unhealthy to warrant a tax.

Consequences of this tax:

  • Customers will choose healthier menu items because they will cost less.
  • Restaurants will need to improve the nutrition of their foods because the untaxed items will sell better.
  • The choice to eat unhealthy items will still be available but will come with an added cost which is used to offset the health care costs of that choice.
  • The added tax will only be applied to those who are directly involved — either as customers or providers — in the aspects of the industry which are deemed harmful.

Who will oppose this most? The restaurant owners. They will reasonably claim that their industry is being over regulated and their liberties are being denied. But as I laid out above, this is how we, and most other societies, have been operating for millennia. It is unfortunate that an industry must suffer but that industry is doing a disservice to us all.

This plan is a sort of top-down solution. Next I’ll present the details of a bottom-up approach which places greater responsibility on the individual and could work well alone or in tandem with this top-down plan. Check back later.

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