The tax America needs right now…and I mean you, Chris Christie

While America sleeps, I awake early this morning on the banks of the Isis River, here in Oxford, England. Outside my window are the dreaming spires of the university has been here for the last 12 centuries or so dominated, from where I sit, by the weatherworn dome of the Radcliffe Camera. The Rad Cam, ...

Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images
Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images
Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

While America sleeps, I awake early this morning on the banks of the Isis River, here in Oxford, England. Outside my window are the dreaming spires of the university has been here for the last 12 centuries or so dominated, from where I sit, by the weatherworn dome of the Radcliffe Camera. The Rad Cam, as it is known, is a massive, round library built by John Radcliffe, physician to William & Mary, and a man known as much for his fondness for good drink as he was for his medical accomplishments.

Another thing for which old Radcliffe was known was his apparent allergy to reading which led him to actually keep an alarmingly small library for a doctor thus creating some considerable amusement among his friends and colleagues when he endowed the library that ultimately became the russet-colored landmark I can see outside my window at the moment.

This phenomenon of making a bold gesture in the opposite direction of your fundamental impulses is known in the psychological line as reaction formation. It is what causes people who hate to fly to get their pilot's licenses and people with a fear of big cats to become lion tamers. It may also be to the old "there's no zealot like a convert" phenomenon or the fact that many people who were once fat become the most intolerant sort of fattists.

While America sleeps, I awake early this morning on the banks of the Isis River, here in Oxford, England. Outside my window are the dreaming spires of the university has been here for the last 12 centuries or so dominated, from where I sit, by the weatherworn dome of the Radcliffe Camera. The Rad Cam, as it is known, is a massive, round library built by John Radcliffe, physician to William & Mary, and a man known as much for his fondness for good drink as he was for his medical accomplishments.

Another thing for which old Radcliffe was known was his apparent allergy to reading which led him to actually keep an alarmingly small library for a doctor thus creating some considerable amusement among his friends and colleagues when he endowed the library that ultimately became the russet-colored landmark I can see outside my window at the moment.

This phenomenon of making a bold gesture in the opposite direction of your fundamental impulses is known in the psychological line as reaction formation. It is what causes people who hate to fly to get their pilot’s licenses and people with a fear of big cats to become lion tamers. It may also be to the old "there’s no zealot like a convert" phenomenon or the fact that many people who were once fat become the most intolerant sort of fattists.

I can check at least two of those boxes and, although I haven’t piloted a plane for years, I still have more than the usual intolerance for fatsos. This is due to the fact that up until two years ago I weighed 75 pounds more than I do today and if I didn’t allow myself the privilege of being critical of those who are unable to push away from the table at the proper moment, than I fear I will be sucked back into the gravitational pull of my old midsection — which, as it happens, bore a remarkable resemblance to Radcliffe’s monument to himself over there in the shadows of the Bodleian. (In terms of roundness and prominence … not orangeness.)

As a consequence of this particular one of my many defects … and six years spent on the advisory board of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health … I am acutely aware of the threat posed to America’s health, finances, and general appearance by the obesity epidemic that has swept the country. Today the obesity rate in the United States is ten times that what it is in say, Japan. Fully a third of Americans are obesity and the costs to the country of caring for these self-indulgent loads is breaking us as surely as would giving them all piggy-back rides. In fact, that’s what we are doing … because they will require more doctor’s care, medication, time in hospital, treatment for diabetes, for heart disease, cancer and countless other maladies brought on by over-eating … we’re all going forced to carry them on our fiscal backs for the next few decades.

For this reason, it was with great admiration and delight that I read of Europe’s latest innovation that America should immediately and unhesitatingly adopt. As usual, it comes from the smarter half of Europe (the cooler, northern portions) which, while not necessarily the half where I would prefer to spend my summer vacations, does regularly come up with good ideas that are worth adopting (the Magna Carta, the location of the ignition on the Saab, many kinds of herring, that kind of thing). In this case, it is the Danes who have made the latest breakthrough. It is described in an article in the Guardian entitled "Body blow for butter-loving Danes as fat tax kicks in."

As of today, "Danes who go shopping today will pay an extra 25p on a pack of butter and 8 p on a packet of crisps, as the new tax on foods which contain more than 2.3% saturated fats comes into effect. Everything from milk to oils, meats and pre-cooked foods such as pizzas will be targeted. The additional revenue raised will fund obesity fighting measures." Apparently … and without a hint of irony … the country that led the way on this was Hungary, land of my grandmother’s matzoh balls, which "recently imposed a tax on all foods with unhealthy levels of sugar, salt and carbohydrates, as well as goods with high levels of caffeine."

This resonates here in Britain, which is the tubbiest country in Europe with, according to estimates cited in the article, 70 percent of the country destined to be obese or overweight by mid-century, which does not bode well in the looks department for a country that is already known for bad teeth and fly-away hair. And it should resonate in America, land of the Fat Burger and KFC’s double down sandwich consisting of two pieces of fried chicken on either side of a bacon cheeseburger.

We love you Chris Christie. We feel your pain. And we have to help you. The United States needs new taxes like it needs about an hour a day in the gym. This is a place to start. It is good public health policy. It is good fiscal policy. And it resonates with the words of one of England’s great thinkers, worth recalling as I look out over dawn at the world’s greatest university. It was Kate Moss, I believe who said, "nothing tastes as good as being thin feels."

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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