PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI

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Sugar tax: It’s about personal freedom

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

FOR us who deeply believe in personal freedom, it is troubling. The notion that South Africa’s political elite unashamedly wants to tax us for consuming sugar and constrict our market choices, is deeply, deeply troubling.

At the present moment, I’m convinced the pistol is aimed our way. And it seems, at least to me, we can’t dodge the bullet in this situation. We will have no option but to abide by the political class’ sugar tax policy aimed at controlling our lives, if implemented. And frankly speaking, I doubt it will not be implemented.

I think the public hearing in parliament this week was not about its economic or health feasibility; well, it may have seemed like it was; but it was not, in my opinion.

The hearing was about whether the political elite should meddle in our lives, through taxes to discourage us from making personal choices about sugar; or leave us alone to decide on the amount of sugar we want to consume. That is what the public hearing was about, not the economic or health feasibility of the policy.

The department of health and the department of the treasury would be delighted to see the sugar tax policy implemented. And they are not the only people seriously wanting this. Even health experts want to see it rolled out. One of these health experts is Dr. Frank Chaloupka, a health economist from the University of Illinois, United States.

At the public hearing, Dr. Chaloupka cited Mexico as an example where the sugar tax policy, implemented in 2014, has produced desirable results – and reduced the drinking of sugary beverages by 11% by 2016.

He further said that, according to the Sunday Times report, a 10% reduction in South Africa would mean 189‚000 less people developing diabetes and could prevent 18 900 premature deaths.

The statistics pronounced by Dr. Chaloupka are statistics from his research, we cannot simply reject them. But we can certainly oppose his tax recommendations to reduce the consumption of sugar and alleviate disease.

His support for sugar tax is a clear reminder that people with fancy degrees can be very destructive to our society – when they do not uphold or believe in the principles of personal freedom.

None of us conservatives and libertarians oppose efforts to discourage consumption of sugar; at least I do not. Diabetes, tuberculosis and other diseases ought to be a concern to all of us. We all want a healthy, educated and prosperous nation. But the sugar tax approach isn’t the way to discourage sugar, quell disease and enrich this country.

A balanced approach is very much needed. As much as we want to overcome our socioeconomic predicaments, we must be cautious not to do it at the expense of peoples’ liberties, as personal freedom must be superior in public policy.

To department of health’s concern about the burden on the healthcare system, yes that may be true – but the suggestion that sugar tax should be adopted at the expense of personal freedoms, must be rejected outright.

We cannot and must not trade personal freedom for alleged low healthcare costs. We ought to think about other pro-liberty ways to discourage high levels of sugar consumption and fight disease.

Perhaps the better approach would be for government to educate people about the dangers of sugary beverages. Government can rigorously disseminate information so South Africans make informed decisions in the market. This may not be the best approach but it certainly is better than a sugar tax; because it upholds personal freedom.

We are unfortunate to live in times where government wants to be our nanny. Politicians think they can do almost anything to turn our planet earth into heaven – where there are no diseases and everybody is rich.

They see themselves as Messiahs who have come to save our world. In their pursuit of a heavenly world, peoples’ freedoms, in the process, are restrained.

We have to be very thoughtful on what our government can and cannot do, especially in a country that has a very small tax base, staggering unemployment and a rising public debt. The growing government by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is a serious threat to personal freedoms. It must be spoken against and its potential tragedies highlighted.

This sugar tax debate must not be focused on the economics and health of the policy; individual freedom must be priority number one; the other stuff can come behind. Because it is not about whether this policy works or doesn’t work, it’s about the safeguarding of personal freedoms. PM

© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI


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