A certain Martin B. Schmidt, a professor of Economics at the College of William & Mary, has written an Op Ed piece for the New York Times called SuperTax Me. In the column, he proposes to eliminate part of the American obesity epidemic caused by fast food. His idea is to TAX fast food, raising its cost to the point where it will be consumed less often. Now I'm not sure he isn't joking, but my first reaction to his proposal was simply: instinct tells me it's a bad idea. But then I realized: it's GOT to be a bad idea, because I have a much better one! Here's the best way to raise the cost of fast food:
First, we want the federal government to pass a law requiring all states to design two-page forms that every person who attends a fast food joint must fill out. (Unfunded federal mandates are always the way to go, aren't they?) The law will require these forms to be no less complex than a typical tax form. People will think twice about running to MacDonald's when faced, once again, with questions about why they are buying this food, how many calories they expect to consume, what percentage of their income they expect to spend, what percentage of their vehicle's life possibly remains, etc. The filled-out forms will be entered into databases for future analysis by Professor Schmidt and his colleagues.
Filling out the forms falsely will of course be a felony, so eventually we'll get some of those fast-food gorgers behind bars where we can really control their calory intake. I think that ought to do it.
Update: Professor Schmidt asks me to clarify that his piece did not address the relative merits of fast food. Rather, he focused on the simple equation of calories in versus calories out, noting that those who "drive through" to pick up their food expend fewer calories than those who walk into the restaurant. Now I personally DO address the merits of fast food, and consequently I suggested requiring all fast food purchasers to fill out my suggested questionnaire. But it would have been more in the spirit of professor Schmidt's op-ed column, had I merey required hanging the questionnaire at the drive in window.