By Charlie Mitchell
OXFORD – The conversation followed a familiar pattern. It was a rant, triggered by news from New York that the size of soda cups may soon be subject to city council approval.
Backers defend the initiative on the premise that sodas are sugary and “too much sugar is bad for you,” so it follows in their minds that government should control (or attempt to control) our intake.
The loudest person in the conversation disagreed.
“Where do they get the right?”
He brought up cigarettes, too. “If a guy operates a one-man real estate office, where does government get the authority to tell him he can’t engage in a legal activity (smoking) in a building he owns?’
The questions sound rhetorical.
But they have an answer.
In short form, it is this: The people give rights to government. When government takes the ball and runs with it, our shock and surprise rings hollow.
Think about it. If government is going to pay when people make poor health choices – and it does – then government is entitled to a seat at the decision-making table.
Perhaps to preserve our sanity, we rarely think about today’s tax bite and the government reach it funds.
We glance at the stub of our paycheck, but not often. No point in dwelling on the 30 cents or so of every dollar that comes off the top for federal income tax, state income tax, Social Security and Medicare. Right?
Well, there’s more, lots more.
In Mississippi, when what’s left of the paycheck is spent on food, there’s a 7 percent sales tax. For gasoline, 37.2 cents per gallon of the total price goes to state and federal taxes. Ever look at your phone bill?
Vehicle owners pay taxes to renew tags. Homeowners pay property taxes and a share of every renter’s rent goes to pay the landlord’s property taxes.
There are tons of “unseen” taxes such as taxes on insurance premiums plus fees for using public parks and licenses to drive.
Then there are almost invisible taxes. The price of a head of lettuce (before the sales tax) includes a minuscule portion of the property, payroll and all other taxes paid by everyone up the chain. Fill a prescription and you pay part of the income taxes of the pharmacist and the corporate taxes of the pill maker. It really never ends.
A lot of attention is paid to the national debt – and it should be – but the taxation that occurs every time a dollar changes hands creates a tremendous pot of money for local, state and national governments to spend doing what people gave them the right to do: regulate.
Still, the guy’s rant continued. Another question was posed. “Whatever happened to personal responsibility?”
There’s an answer to that, too.
It’s the same.
We gave it up, in small increments, to government, and usually for very good reasons. We like having a government that screens medicines for effectiveness. We like having a government that assures provide clean water, pure meats and vegetables. We like it when passenger planes don’t collide. We just don’t like it when government “goes too far.”
The exasperated speaker went on and on, explaining that he didn’t smoke or drink soda. He said he vetoes the effect of too much sugar by not spending money on quarts of the stuff. He doesn’t spend money in restaurants or other places where people smoke, he said. “It’s my money and I decide where to spend it,” he said.
Well, the guy was in too much of a froth for me to explain it, but, again, that’s what governments do, too.
When we give government the responsibility to do things for us and the money to carry out that responsibility, they become “invested” in our well-being. If we expect more – and each generation has – then we can’t expect to pay less or get less.
We can be miffed at the notion of controls on soda cup sizes. We can think it’s silly. We can think it’s an intrusion. But what we can’t do – at least honestly – is claim surprise.
Given the public funds flowing into Medicare and countless other programs to fight obesity, diabetes and abundant other maladies, government has every right to at least try to manage what people eat and drink.
What’s ludicrous is to sit back and ask, “How dare they?” when we, the people, increasingly look for and expect government to take care of our every need.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.