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The Flawed Fast Food Tax

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Fast Food Tax Redux

As I alerted you to more than three weeks ago, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has proposed a 2% tax on fast food restaurants, in a vain attempt to cover the city’s fiscal woes. Here’s a sneak preview to this week’s ANC feature, “The Flawed Fast Food Tax,” in which I conclude:

As a rule, governments should not seek quick and temporary fixes to structural budget problems. Sin taxes like the fast food tax are quick fixes that would have serious economic and moral consequences. Government leaders really ought to address their own appetite for spending tax dollars before they try to regulate the appetites of their constituents.

Read the full text here.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Joseph Grenier

    I believe the District of Columbia already does tax fast food more than other food services.

  • Jared Monger

    Meanwhile Detriot mayor Kilpatrick is running up a $200,000 tab to the taxpayers…


  • Big Red Lance


    Very nice article. Your quote about government not taking a look at their own “insatiable appetite” is the Quote of the Century.


  • Worst. Mayor. EVER.

  • shanna trahern

    I love this arcticle but I don’t think a tax will stop obesity. In fact, overall, I don’t think that most people would notice it unless otherwise informed.

  • Ed Burley

    The fast-food establishment’s only possible reaction to this tax would be to lower their own prices, which would in turn lead to the reduction of employees, and or their hours or benefits. This then exacerbates the problem by lowering income taxes collected from the employees.

    When will these liberals learn these simple economic truths?

  • Steve Daskal

    "The power to tax is the power to destroy."
    Sales taxes and excsises are a legal means of raising revenue. Since most of the limitations on
    the power of government to spend (and waste) taxpayer money have been eliminated by the courts or by constitutional amendment, there is no hope of stopping runaway spending, for which there are always demands for more from vested interests, while the taxpayers remain diffuse, divided, and apathetic.

    That said, "sin taxes" are preferable to ever-increasing income and property taxes. Taxing alcohol, tobacco, and LEGALIZED drugs, gambling, and prostitution should provide plenty of money for governments while also eliminating some major expenditures on prisons, police, courts, etc. While all of these things are not necessarily good for individuals, free adults should be able to choose for themselves whether they will use these products/services — the "Nanny State" should not.

    BTW, I do not consider "fast food" a "sin" — if one is concerned about addictive behaviors, I think sports and exercise can be just as addictive, and not necessarily safer given the enormous rise in sports-related injuries.

  • Christianne

    Considering how big the industry of fast food and that everyone eats it, A tax on food is only pennies to the consumer, and un noticiable. Consumers will still buy food, but the extra money could go something really important…such as schools…

  • Healthy Athletetic Vegan Conservative

    I am writing a persuasive paper on this topic right now that the government SHOULD impose a sin tax but specifically the US federal government…why well heres why:

    1) betterment of society: health, on average, after a sin tax is imposed consumption is decreased by 11%% per year. There is no doubt in my mind that Fast Food is one of the leading causes of obesity and Heart Diseas.
    2) Government looking better and upholding to its founding fathers beliefs:

    The US government gets a lot of international heat about putting economic interests first. They need to look good and look like htey care about the American People first.

    People argue that its the individuals choice being takin away but its not. There are chemicals being put into BK and MACD’s that affect your brain to CRAVE their food. I can assure you the majority of people eating Fast Food aren’t aware of this. So by reducing Fast Food intake in America the government would be helping individuals rights’. i could continue but i think my point is made. Lastly though, I am proposing that the money generated go to Starvation Aid in Africa and stuff where its not being necesarrily relied on.

  • jim

    more tax? it is ridiculous. govt continues to suck the blood out of everything….the mayor of detroit should be impeached.

  • Sheldine

    Of course politicians wants to tax junk food ~ it will bring in more revenue. Will they actually be solving obesity? I don’t think so. The world has been changing. More and more people need to be away from home for long hours, working. We all have our excuses; It’s easier to purchase and prepare junk food, it’s difficult finding fruit and vegetables that won’t go bad within a couple of days, it’s a shame healthy food can’t be more affordable. Think about it. Who do you think has problems with obesity? And why? If you think a tax will make a difference, then create a tax reduction for purchasing healthy food!

  • James

    It’s hard to define which kind of food is unhealthy.

  • david

    I agree politicians do want to tax fast food because like 90%% of the people in this country eat fast food. Im not trying to put down this country i love this country but, we are one of the most obese country in the world and its spreading throughout the world. People say eat healthy, but then you should relize that even a healthy diet isnt so healthy. Also another thing people should look at is we all eat junk food Sgt Belcher says to throw junkfood junkies in jail but if that were true we’d all be in jail! Everyone has eaten junkfood theres no denying it

  • Yvonne

    Sin tax is imposed upon alcohol and cigarettes. As a result many have stopped smoking because they cannot afford to and as a result are living a healthy lifestyle. Those who do choose to smoke pay the tax. Obesity drains our medical care system, employers, etc. as much or more than smoking. Similar labels as seen on say lean cuisine boxes should be on fast food rappers. If calores, fat exceed suggested standard than sin tax should be imposed. Smokers and drinkers are taxed, why not overeaters?

  • Yvonne –

    You have way too much faith in your government. Cigarettes aren’t taxed because anyone cares about public health. Cigarettes are taxed because they are an easy source of revenue. Same with alcohol. The irony is that often these taxes are imposed with the justification that they will pay for health care services that are needed because people use the products, thereby necessitating that people keep smoking or drinking in order to continue funding the programs.

    Having spent a number of ears in legislative work, I can say at least this much: sin taxes are a nice way for the government to grab a bit more of your paycheck. That’s what they’re interested in; they could care less whether you live or die.

  • May

    If it were reasonable to place a sin tax on food that people perceive as unhealthy, for instance, fastfood such as Burger King, isn’t it more logical to tax obese people instead since they are afterall, the heavier burdens (both physically and literally) of society? After all, obese people are more prone to diseases which affect their productivity and drain the country’s health care resources.

    The attempt to impose thesin tax is doom o fail as there isn’t any guides to define what’s bad for health and what’s not. What seems excesive to another person may seem moderate to another. In addition, food by themselves, do not become unhealthy to people if consumed in moderation or if accompanied by an active lifetsyle. Hence, i find the whole idea of a sin tax mentioned in the article above amusing.

    In addition, fast food has become so integrated in people’s lives that it is almost impossible to remove it from our lifestyle as they have almost become a national identity. Banning fast food is not an option either; people can still easily consume other food lower in calories/fats excessively and history is bound to repeat itself.

    Moreover, let’s not forget that people have the right to choose. I can choose not to eat Big Mac, and instead, opt for fruits or salad (typical healthy food). Since we are accountable for our own health, why do we need interference from others to force ourselves to be accountable for our health?

    Hence the measure of a sin tax does not cure the root of the problem although it may indeed discourage consumption of fast food from some people. People do know what’s best for themselves; it’s only a matter of ignoring or doing what’s best for ourselves.

  • Thom

    You can’t tax obese people across the board simply because not all obese people are obese due to fast food/junk food. There are many obese people who have physical impairments that cause them to be overweight. One example is an over active thyroid. Another are disabled persons who can no longer exercise properly. The only way for the tax to go would have to be a “fat tax” on fast/junk food. I often see what appear to be healthy people eating at fast food joints all over the country but I would be willing to bet dollars to pesos that if given a cholesterol test would fail miserably.

  • Chris

    The number 1 problem in America is rising health care cost. Every subject has a predicate. The predicates here are 1: foods being eating and 2. low exercise. People respond to incentives and disincentives. First, study the effects of all food on health, and then, tax them proportionally. Then, with the tax revenue, send it ALL to healthcare. This would both, lowers health care demand. Lower demand leads to lower prices. Also, the tax would go to health care and pay for part of the cost in itself. Moreover, how about an incentive to exercise? When you do charity work, you are rewarded by the government. Excerise would lower the demand for HC, and thus, help everyone out. A very positive externality. A tax on junk food and a transfer payment to those who workout, could solve the health care problem.

  • Thomas

    No to taxes, yes to Zoning law changes. We are a product of our society………. tvs, cars, fastfood, movies, and beer! I believe the relaxing the existing zoning laws would better society. NO NEW TAXES, theres enough taxes as is. People have to drive great distances to get to work or just to buy groceries. All this driving is making Americans obese and dependent on foreign oil. Zoning laws can start out small like allowing small grocery stores in neighborhoods. It would help promote a healthier lifestyle where people could walk or bike places. What do you think?