May 6th, 2010
Dear Prof. Popkin:
A segment on WJLA-TV’s 11:00pm newscast yesterday featured you endorsing a tax on pizza. You justified such a tax on grounds that Americans today eat too much “junk food.”
Believing Americans to be too dimwitted or lacking in self-control to choose for themselves what to eat, you obviously also believe that college professors possess the moral authority to propose that government dictate the contents of other people’s diets.
So the rules of civil society, as you see them, are apparently these: If Professor divines that Person isn’t acting in Person’s own best interests, government should obstruct Person’s efforts to live as he or she wishes and prod Person to live instead according to how Professor wants Person to live.
I, too, can play by these rules.
I propose that all articles and books advocating that government intrude into people’s private choices be taxed at very high rates. Socially irresponsible producers of such “junk” scholarship churn out far too much of it. As a result, unsuspecting Americans consume harmfully large quantities of this scholarship – scholarship made appealing only because its producers cram it with sweet and superficially gratifying expressions of noble goals. These empty intellectual ‘calories’ trick our brains – which evolved in an environment that lacked today’s superabundant access to junk scholarship – into craving larger and larger, even super-sized, portions of such junk.
The tax I propose would reduce Americans’ consumption of this mentally debilitating, university-processed junk that serves only to inflate its producers’ egos and consulting fees while it makes the rest of us intellectually flabby and clogs our neural pathways with notions that are toxic to each individual who reads it and to the entire body-politic.
As a nation, we have a duty to prevent our fellow citizens from mindlessly ruining their minds – for when any one mind is damaged by the consumption of junk scholarship, the rest of us are harmed by the resulting obesity of the state.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030