There's a white, powdery substance that is on the streets and in our schoolyards. It is wreaking havoc on Americans, and it won't stop. No, I'm not talking about crack or cocaine. I'm talking about sugar. Apparently, the stuff is so addictive and harmful that the people over at the Left-leaning Vox are actually arguing that we should treat sugar as a controlled substance. Their argument is based on four criteria for regulation: ubiquity, toxicity, addictiveness, and externalities.
I'm on a bit of a time crunch here, but let's go through the points one by one. First, let's address ubiquity. Sugar is supposedly a problem because it's everywhere and it's cheap. Sugar is naturally occurring ingredient in many foods. Much like trans fats or gluten, we should ask ourselves why there has been an upward trend of sugar in our diets. If we want sugar to stop being so ubiquitous, maybe we should end the government subsidies of sugar and the corn that produces fructose corn syrup, both of which artificially depress the price of sugar and cause overproduction of sugar.
I will address toxicity and addictiveness in the same paragraph. At least the author of the Vox piece was astute enough to realize that banning sugar is ludicrous. Even so, he recommends regulation, i.e., taxation and restriction of access. In the context of modifying the food stamps program to include less sugary foods, I am more inclined to agree because at that point, the government would only be exacerbating the problem by further subsidizing unhealthy foods. In general, not so much. Looking back at history, I don't see sugar being a major substance abuse problem. People have this little thing called self-control. Even if you want to compare sugar to something like alcohol (which I have a hard time believing it has a comparable level of addiction), people have overcome addictions before. The problem is people have an aversion to change, and sugar just tastes too good. Maybe in addition to removing government subsidies, we should also teach people self-discipline and self-control. As consumer advocates, we should also demand healthier food.
Finally, negative externalities are primarily an issue if we didn't socialize health care costs. Even so, some negative externalities can spill over into the workplace, which can cause some problems. In spite of what some proponents of the "sugar is a drug" argument like to think, sugar is not insurmountable. Thinking that the government needs to come in and save us, especially when they are adding fuel to the fire, is not the way to go. We have more of a choice in dealing with obesity than we might realize. We have the ability to demand healthier foods. We can end subsidies to sugar. People can take control, diet, and find foods with lower sugar levels. We can exercise more often to offset some of the unhealthy foods we eat. We can find ways to teach people about healthier dieting. Any good or service we consume comes with some risks, but it's sweet to know that we have control of the healthcare choices we make.