Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why I'm Okay With A Pop Tax

One of the ideas that's been bandied around plenty lately, what with all this health care talk and such, is the proposal that we help pay for health care with a tax on unhealthy things, such as pop (and yes, it's "pop", not "soda". "Soda" is an adjective, "pop" is (in this context) a noun).

Now there are plenty of y'all out there who know me, and what I'm a boutta tell ya 'ill come as no surprise, but fer them folk that don't know me so well, well, this is for their edification: Imma big pop drinker. (Oh yeah, since it's my last week in Virginia, I figer'd I'd work on my Southern Lawya drawl. How's it doin'?)

Now you might think as a pop drinker I'd be apposed to a tax on pop, and normally you'd be right. But them Duke boys had something else up their sleeve all tagether. [Sorry. Slipped too far into the voice...]

Seriously though, I've done some real thinking about this. I drink a lot of pop. It's one of my vices. It helps me relax, it can help me focus, it can help me stay alert. So yeah, I end up drinking plenty of pop, and a tax on pop would certainly hit me. And part of me thinks "well that's unfair, why not tax some one else's unhealthy food? I don't eat foie gras. Let's tax that instead." After all, a calorie is a calorie, no matter where it comes from, right? Why tax some, and not others?

Well, that's wrong of course. There are better and worse calories. But setting that aside, and getting down to an honest assessment of myself, I know that I drink too much pop. It's bad for me. I'm not an entirely unhealthy person, but drinking less pop would improve my physical condition. And of course there's my teeth to think of... pop has not done me any favors there.

So a tax on pop... what's the end result? First, it's probably going to mean I'm paying more. But I've only got so much money, and each can of pop gives me marginally less utility, right? So an increase in price is going to, at some point, reduce the amount of pop I'm drinking. And I know it will, because as pop prices have risen over the past decade or so, I've certainly decreased my pop drinking from it's peak in college. Sure, there are weeks when I might have more, but overall the increase in price has helped me decrease my consumption (and there have even been periods when I've essentially cut pop out almost entirely). And a further increase from taxes will give me more incentive to avoid this unhealthy lifestyle.

And that's a good thing. In fact, it's exactly the kind of thing that government should be doing. I would be a better, healthier person if the government were to increase taxes on pop. Long time readers of this blog will of course know that I subscribe to the Aristotelian view that the role of government is to make good citizens (and that obviously includes health), and so on both a personal and philosophical level, I think this is a great way for government to further its ends.

[And disincentivizing bad behavior is, in this case, superior to outlawing it. There are those who frequently criticize government bans and then extend criticism of ineffective bans into criticism of government itself. This is a prime example of the why conflating those two criticism is problematic; government has many different tools, and when it uses the right ones government itself is one of the greatest tools for improving our lives.]

Of course, I'd still feel better about it if they also taxed some of the unhealthy vices that rich people more frequently consume.

Senora's dance has no title
You jump in the saddle
Hold on to de bridle!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

A Quick Thought On Our Sinful Nature

I happened across a blog tonight that was all about religious literature and reviews of said literature. I clicked over to the author's "Belief Statement" and read this:

"I believe that mankind is hopelessly depraved and incapable of doing anything good on its own. It is this depravity that separates us from God. Our depravity judges us guilty before God, and there is nothing we can do to earn God's favor."

It seems a bit strong to me. Sure, from time to time I've dwelt on the idea that we're all born into sin, it's just that I've never spent a ton of time thinking about mankind's fallen nature. It's just always been a belief that I accept (and not a particularly difficult one to accept at that).

But this belief statement is almost offensively strong to me. It starts with a reasonable premise (people are born into sin and need Grace to recover from that) but then jumps to an unreasonable one (without Grace we are depraved). After all, God created us in His image and endowed us with His greatest gifts. Surely there must be some redeeming qualities in human nature, right? To say that we are "hopelessly depraved and incapable of doing anything good" is an indictment not of humanity alone, but also of humanity's creator.

I guess the question becomes whether there is a middle ground. Can we acknowledge our sinful nature and need for grace while simultaneously embracing human nature and seeing good qualities within us? I think the answer is - and has to be - yes. We are not perfect. That much is true. But it does not follow that we are therefore perfectly opposite of perfection. In our natural state we lack Grace, but that does not mean we are depraved. It is not an on/off switch, either we are sinful or we are saved.

And I'd take it a step further; I would say that even those who are without Grace can live as God would want. That in our human nature God has given us tools towards that life. The person without Grace isn't going to get it perfect, but then again, neither is the person who lives in Grace. But lack of perfection does not mean depravity. God takes joy in all of our lives; He gives us our lives as an amazing gift and calls us to live them to the fullest.

Last week's Gospel really struck me, and it's been with me all week. One verse really sums it all up. Mark 9:40 "For whoever is not against us is for us."

Think about that for a second, and how it turns the ol' "if you're not with us you're against us" mentality on its head. If you aren't against God, then you're for God. So long as you're living your life in a way that isn't against God, then you're as good as living in a way that is for God. And that's the red text.

To tie it all back around, it is a "if you're not with me you're against me" mentality that says lack of Grace is the same as depravity. It views an absence of Grace as a rejection of God. But Christ says otherwise, essentially: "so long as there isn't a rejection of God, then there is Grace."

We aren't perfect. We're born into sin. We need Grace to get us to Heaven and help us live our lives to the fullest. But that doesn't mean we're depraved. That doesn't mean we can't do good without embracing Christ. Because we're never alone. God has already given us our lives, and that gift is such an amazing act of Grace in itself. God wants us to have this gift regardless of how we use it. Throw in natural law and our ability to know right and wrong, and well... I'd say we're already about half way there. Not perfect, but not depraved. Just somewhere in between.

What you gonna spend your free life on?