Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Fat Tax: An Idea Whose Time has Come

What bracket will you be in?

Picking up today's paper, I read that film director Kevin Smith was ejected from a Southwest Airlines flight because he was too fat to fit in his seat. Smith claims he had no trouble fitting in the seat--"I could buckle that seat belt"--and is now in a rage against the airline.

A few years back another overweight flier tried to sue an airline for making her buy an extra seat to accommodate her flab. The airline, she said, was discriminating against her because of her body shape.

All this raises the question: Should fatties have to buy an extra seat to fly?

My answer is simple: First, hell yes! And second, you ain't seen nothing yet.

In the same paper with the news bit on Smith was an editorial about the problems we Americans now face with our gargantuan budget deficit. Because of our unpaid-for two wars in the Middle East, and what with the government stimulus package and painful Wall Street bailout, we now face years of deficits in the trillions of dollars. How will we ever cover such huge expenses? I think, for a helping hand, we should look to huge Americans.

What I am proposing is very straightforward, a novel way of reforming the tax code. Until now, an individual's tax bracket was determined based on income. Starting next year, we should add a new and more effective criterion. We should determine a person's tax bracket based on his or her weight.

The fact is that we as a nation are way overweight. And we are now also deeply in debt. This is bad for our health and bad for our economic future. Take a stroll round the local shopping mall and you'll realize the merit of my plan. Hundreds of billions of dollars could be raised if we started taxing all those sagging bellies and elephantine hips. It's time all those man boobs cost a little. At least as much as breast implants.

My proposed tax would presumably be a hit with the couple now in the White House. Our president now faces more criticism for his ballooning budgets than for anything else on his agenda. And our First Lady has undertaken to fight obesity. Hmm. Isn't it true that a fat tax would be a way to solve both these problems at once? What's more, I think Michelle Obama would support my proposal even though, based on what I've seen, it may knock her into a higher bracket.

The fact is that if seriously overweight Americans were required to pay seriously higher taxes they might finally decide to get off those tens of millions of sofas and shake their booties a bit.

The question arises as to how this proposed tax reform would be implemented and enforced. How, in short, would we go about the business of assessing a given citizen's tax burden? I already have ideas on this.

You know how on highways you'll occasionally see signs that read "Weigh Station Ahead"? Those signs are for semi trucks of course. I suggest we open similar Weigh Stations for tax assessment purposes. (Though I do think there are people who may finally have to use the semi-truck weigh stations, given the poundage at issue.)

We could open up Weigh Stations in every town, and each year before tax day citizens would have to come in with their IDs and get weighed. First, the assessor on duty would measure the person's height, then the person would be required to walk over a long series of weight-sensitive tiles. I picture it like walking down a hallway, but in this case each section of the hallway is calibrated to buzz at a certain weight, the poundage decreasing as one walks.

And so, stepping off the yellow starting line, you step onto the first large tile. That first tile will only buzz if over 350 pounds is placed on it. So far so good. It didn't buzz. But the tile after that buzzes at 330 pounds, and the one after that at 310 pounds, and so on down to the lightest weight.

The further you make it down the hallway without setting off the red buzzer light, the lower your tax bracket and the less you'll have to pay. If however you set off one of those first few tiles-- Well, brother, looks like you'll be covering a hefty chunk of our national debt this year. Needless to say, you'll be encouraged to lower your tax bracket next time around.

I know the fast food and soft drink lobbies will fight tooth and nail to defeat my proposed reform. Nonetheless I'm looking to some of our thinner members of Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, to sponsor it. And like I say, I believe Obama will be behind it, so there's little chance of it getting vetoed.

In any case it is time Americans stopped whining about fiscal difficulties and started putting their money where their mouth is. Instead of stuffing that mouth with thick-crust pizzas and bag after bag of "diet cookies."

With a new fat tax, America's health care burden will shrink as obese folks realize they're paying too much to Uncle Sam and decide to cut calories. Admittedly there will probably be cases of citizens who try to perform lipposuction in their kitchens or who desperately amputate limbs in a last-ditch effort to lose poundage before Weigh Day. But such cases should be few and far between, and can be considered unfortunate casualties in what is a necessary policy of national austerity.

As for myself, my bracket will not be the lowest, that's for sure. I have a small belly problem, and I won't make it to the end of that hallway. But I'm willing to do my part for America. I'm willing to pay a little extra. And you? If you are not one of those shameless slobs we see lumbering through food courts, ice cream cone in hand, all across this Great Big Nation, you have every reason to give your support to this new proposed fat tax. Write your representatives today.

Director Kevin Smith is upset. Cry me a river.

Michelle will be paying a little extra too.

Yeah, you're laughing now.

Safety in numbers.

These gals will be a doing a swimsuit calendar to raise money.

"Lemme tell ya what I think of your proposal, Eric. . . ."



and don't forget 300 pound film director Michael Moore

Anonymous said...

Victor said...

well written and a clever idea. Every year all American's have to pay for all these fatties: fatties suffer far, far more health issues. They leave behind $billions in unpaid medical bills at our nations hospitals. Hospitals raise rates for all of us to cover them. We suffer higher health insurance costs because of these lardo's.
Eric, you have my vote.

Eric Mader said...

Reply to Anonymous Victor. . .


Actually it seems I've been scooped. Again.

Doing a Google search I learn that the term "fat tax" has already been coined, and that it is, get this, a typical example of a "Pigovian tax."

That sounds just about right, doesn't it? Pigovian tax. "We're gonna slap a Pigovian tax on your ass!"

In fact Pigovian has nothing to do with stuffing yourself like a pig, but comes from an economist's name: Arthur Pigou.

A Pigovian tax is a means of counterbalancing what in economics is called an "externality problem." For instance, a Pigovian tax might try to correct for a "negative externality" such as we see in the case of people who pig out on junk food eight days a week.

And so, in simple economic terms: Your neighbor Joe Smith doesn't pay much for the two boxes of Twinkies he eats every day--Twinkies are cheap--but after two decades, when his health complications end up costing society tens of thousands of dollars, everybody has to pay for those Twinkies.

In other words: there's an imbalance between the low purchase price of Twinkies and the high costs, for everybody, of years of Twinkie-eating.

The advocates of Pigovian taxation would insist that the cost of the health problems should have been factored into the price of the Twinkies to begin with. Joe shouldn't have been able, so cheaply, to do something that ended up costing all of us so much. Because although Joe could afford the many boxes of Twinkies, he alone couldn't afford the huge hospital bills he left behind on his demise. Those hospital bills are called a "negative externality" because it is a matter of costs external to the initial transactions between Joe and the Twinkie mongers.

Pigou would maybe say that the price for Twinkies, cigarettes, McDonald's french fries, etc., is unnaturally low. The purchase price doesn't relate soundly to the real price.

What's more, if Twinkies are $21.95 a box, the likelihood is that Joe will start eating fewer. And would the "P. Tax" slapped on junk food be earmarked for subsidizing health care?

In any case, I agree with the general principal here. But try to impose a Pigovian tax in the U.S. of A. The soda companies, pizza companies, and snack companies will lobby against it and it won't pass. It has happened before. Which is unfortunate. We should be pushing more for these kinds of taxes. To hell with Junk Food, Inc.

Sadly things even seem headed in the opposite direction. We can all be thankful the "conservatives" on the Supreme Court recently ruled that corporations can contribute as much money as they want to candidates for political office. It's still mind-boggling that Americans will put up with this nonsense, that there isn't more outcry against it. This recent Supreme Court ruling means that soon we'll maybe have laws requiring children to drink one Coke and eat four Twinkies every day as part of their school lunch. It's the American Way.

Unknown said...

Twinkies are priced under their actual cost, not just their social cost, due to the enormous subsidies for corn and, concomitantly, corn syrup.

In other words, the social costs of the American diet are shifted onto third parties (the environment, the overburdened health care system, and, ultimately, the tax payer), even as the actual costs of its production are subsidized for the benefit of Monsanto and Archer Midland stockholders.

I laughed my ass off as I read your Swiftian piece. The PIGouvian tax was something we studied in grad school. Never have I heard it explained so cogently.

Hope you are well.


Anonymous said...

welll what about muscle mass cuz muscle weighs more than fat and what if u r a weight lifter not a body builder so ur kinda bulky but lift like twice ur weight is there a write off for tht... other then that its a ggood and hilarious way of raising money fast