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Globe Editorial

Let us eat cake, without the fat tax Add to ...

The state has no place in the kitchens of the nation. Or the family rooms. Or anywhere people like to gorge themselves on their pop, drool over their chocolate or gobble their potato chips.

Let us try to define the noxious element in the so-called fat tax that several health groups have called for in public hearings of the Commons health committee in Ottawa. That is, apart from the fact that the tax wouldn't work - as if charging $1.25 for a bag of chips instead of $1 will provoke people into eating a 60-cent apple instead. (Even if the 25 cents were used to subsidize the now 35-cent apple, would chip-eaters munch apples while watching TV? And why not put a fat tax on TVs?)

The fat tax amounts to a kind of totalitarianism of those who know what is best for everyone else. It is social engineering on a large scale: the notion that the state should try to control the shape of people's bodies through the tax system. Remember Stalin's New Man? That was about creating selfless individuals who would work for the collective good. The fat tax aims at creating a New Man, Woman and Child who will fit nicely within the approved zone of the Body Mass Index.

The fat tax would be founded on an intolerance of people's right to choose what they eat, surely a deeply personal right. And what is the national emergency that requires such engineering? That fat people cost the health system more than skinny people. Why not, then, cut to the chase and directly tax those who fall afoul on the BMI?

The fat tax would be a kind of wishing away of the obese. Implicitly, the reasoning behind the fat tax is that the obese choose, in effect, to be fat. Their choices (the reasoning goes) can be changed by taxing their bad habits. The obese will no longer be with us - we who have government-approved BMI scores and who make government-approved choices. The obese will no longer burden the health system.

Does a bag of potato chips or a can of pop cause obesity? Of course not. Many skinny people have been witnessed eating them. Perhaps the state could set up a vast apparatus to monitor people's excessive junk-food intake. The government could solve the obesity crisis, the health-care crisis and the unemployment crisis at one go.

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