Rebranding the Unmarketable

With New York Governor David Paterson’s failure (yet again) to ram his soda tax down New Yorkers’ throats—this time through a special legislative session—he must be wondering how he’s going to ever get it passed. The Wall Street Journal’s Metropolis blog had some advice yesterday for the governor: Stop branding soft drink taxes in nanny-state terms.

That would be a major shift for today’s public health sector. The New York City health department has been running nauseating ads for a year that depict soft drinks turning into liquid fat in an effort to gross out the public and discourage soda consumption. The Big Apple’s current health chief, and his immediate predecessor, have both agitated to overtax citizens who choose to drink sugary beverages.

Instead of trying to make us all cringe, the Journal writes, some are now arguing that tax proponents should be more positive. Not only would this suggestion be a major tactical shift, but it simply wouldn’t work.

Ultimately, today’s elite foodie activists believe that public health is everybody’s business. Proponents of taxing foods and drinks to force people to slim down are ultimately the party of “no.” No desserts, no soft drinks, no tasty or satisfying comestibles of any kind. They are the dietary scolds who determine what’s good and bad for us, instead of letting us make the choices ourselves. Whenever the “commoners” choose “poorly,” these naysayers are there to nudge us in the culinarily “correct” direction.

But that just won’t fly. The Journal also explores the concept of “reactance”: the forbidden-fruit theory that people will end up wanting what authorities don’t want us to have. It’s especially true in America, where most people are rightfully very protective of individual liberties and freedom of choice—something that is unheard of in many other countries. Efforts to control what we eat and drink, and say “no” to our choices, will ultimately produce a backlash from consumers. We’re truly in charge of what’s on our tables, after all.

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