While banging the drum for his illiberal and unnecessary sugar tax, Jamie Oliver told Parliament :
The tax, he said, would “remind [manufacturers] who is boss. And that is child health and the government.
“We should work out who is running the country. Is it businesses – who are profiting from ill health in our country – or is it us?”
More important than the tax itself, he said, would be the message it sent that the government “is willing to fight tooth and nail for public health, and especially children’s health”.
The tax system is not a communication method. We can send messages by fax, letter, email, telephone call and there might even be the occasional telex left lying around. But tax is not a messaging system so that’s not the way we send messages.
Secondly, the only people who profit from ill health in the UK are those people working in the NHS who get paid to deal with it.
But over and above all of this is the entirely mistaken theoretical view he has of the place of government. They do not, and we do not want them to, run the country. This has actually been tried of course. There have been governments which tried to determine who produced what, at what price, and then who was able to consume them and in what volume. We usually refer to such failures as Soviet style socialism. It just didn’t work: neither in restricting access to the goods that were considered verboeten (for example, Gorbachev’s restrictions on alcohol led to hte entire country running out of sugar as bathtub vodka was made) nor in any other conceivable measure of the Good Life.
What we do want government to do is those things which both must be done and which can only be done by government. Given that we’re all entirely capable of determining whether we’d like a nice glass of fizzy pop or not, this isn’t an area where we need the government’s help. Thus the proposition fails, on both theoretical and empirical grounds.