7.22.2010

Health mandates and the subsidized state: working at cross purposes

The MacIver Institute noted yesterday that -- hold your breath -- Wisconsin is looking at some new taxes:
State health officials Wednesday released a long-range health vision that proposes increased taxes on alcohol, placing community health centers in middle schools, restricting the sale of alcohol at public events and would begin public schooling for children as young as three years old.

According to the Department of Health Services, the Healthiest Wisconsin 2020: Everyone Living Better, Longer sets out several major health improvement targets, including smoking prevention, lowering obesity rates, ensuring access to good nutrition and increasing exercise levels. The plan also emphasizes the need to improve systems that support health, such as research, health literacy, sustainable funding, partnerships and information systems.
This reminded me of the bit I caught on NPR a few days back about the struggles poor families face when buying food:
"A gallon of milk is $3-something. A bottle of orange soda is 89 cents," she says. "Do the math."
The math we should be doing, though, relates to subsidies:
Under the [2003] Milk Volume Production (MVP) program run by the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, factory farms can receive up to $1 million each for herd expansion – and this is on top of all sorts of other subsidies and incentives. On Oct. 1st Kinnard Farms near Lincoln was awarded $150,000 by Doyle to buy 300 more cows, having already gotten a $3,000 Dairy 2020 grant from Thompson in 1998. On Oct. 7th Doyle awarded another $450,000 to Blue Star Farms near Arlington to buy 900 more cows, following a $5,000 Business Employees Skills Training (BEST) grant from McCallum in 2001. With so much taxpayer swill in the public trough, it’s no wonder there are now over a hundred factory farms in Wisconsin, compared to just two a decade ago.
Getting rid of just one awful subsidy would go much further toward improving the health of those who need it most than raising a host of taxes. Imagine going further and dropping subsidies for things like corn. Without an artificial price floor set by government tampering in the market, healthier food would be available at lower prices. That, far more than an extra 5 cent tax on cheeseburgers, will go a long way toward ending obesity; when milk prices can compete with soda, parents can afford to make better choices.