“Gordhan saying he would tax sugar may seem innocuous. But he deceived them. Gordhan will not and cannot tax sugar. Only people are taxed; all tax is people tax. There might have been spontaneous outrage had Gordhan been honest about his proposed discrimination against people who have no control over innate inclinations. His victims mainly will be vulnerable socially stigmatised, overweight people who happen to have a sweet tooth”.
Read ‘Health’ tax bodes ill for societal freedoms being Leon Louw’s latest column in BDlive today published by Business Day.
Governments disguise people control by pretending to control inanimate objects: tobacco, imports, wages, liquor, interest, mining, credit, currency, electricity, healthcare etc. The “salami technique” makes it hard to anticipate the long-term implications of a “sugar tax”, just as seemingly innocuous early anti-smoking measures concealed the deluge that followed. One thin slice of salami makes no detectable difference, yet eventually, none is left. So, it is with human rights; when one small erosion is condoned, principled argument against escalation is sacrificed.
Initial victims will be people who drink “sugar-sweetened beverages”. Foreign experience shows that victims turn to such alternatives as sweets, cake, cookies, liquor, and sweetened tea or coffee. These must then be taxed. That induces sugar addicts to consume more fruit and fruit juice, now considered equally unhealthy. When they too have been taxed, because bodies metabolise carbohydrates such as bread, rice and potatoes into sugar, these will also have to be taxed.
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Substance taxes discriminate in two ways: against people who like villainised substances, and poor people who endure “regressive” tax, that is tax that affects them disproportionately. The most obnoxious argument for discrimination against people with unhealthy dispositions — A-type personalities, depressives, victims of child abuse and so on — is that “society” can save the social cost of caring for them.
If that lie were true, caring for us is no excuse for our eroding liberty, equality and dignity.
Substance controls can have dire consequences, such as the tea tax contributing to the American Revolution. Salt tax contributed to the French and Indian revolutions, oppression in China, and the Russian Salt Riot.
If we are lucky, South Africans will demand the reversal of creeping health fanaticism with a view to ending discrimination against people with supposedly unhealthy preferences. They should be encouraged rather than taxed and controlled. They should be free, with pride and dignity, to consume, sell and market whatever is lawful.