Soda Jerks

The Financial Times reports that Coca Cola has been lobbying on Capitol Hill against a Senate finance committee proposal to tax non-diet sodas and juices. “[T]he consumer in this environment is not ready for a tax on a basic staple like non-alcoholic beverages.”

As if in another environment the consumer will be ready.

Coke’s pitch is almost as comical as the classic Anheuser-Busch “Can the Beer Tax” campaign back in 1990, when the federal government was contemplating a hike in the excise tax on beer. The TV spot in the campaign (sorry, I can’t find a link, but I do have a videotape if you want to stop by my office) features the usual golden-cam shots of heartland farmers and factory workers, coal miners and Kiwanis Club members. A folksy narrator says:

This country was built by Americans proud to earn their rewards. Folks like you who give their fair share, and expect a fair deal in return.

But now some people want more than your fair share. They want to raise the federal excise tax on your beer.

Americans already pay over $3 billion a year in beer taxes.

So don’t pay more for what you’ve already earned. Tell ’em to can the beer tax.

The ’em being Congress, which received over 110,000 letters (thoughtfully provided by A-B) in the first month of this campaign.

There are plenty of studies deconstructing the beer industry’s objections to excise taxes. A couple of points about A-B’s TV spot, though:

1) That $3 billion figure is one of those Potemkin statistics – it sounds like a lot, but who knows? We know this: beer drinkers get off easy compared to smokers. (Fun fact: According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2007 states approved a combined $1 billion in tobacco-tax increases, compared with $3 million in alcohol-tax increases.)

2) “Don’t pay more for what you’ve already earned” is one of those Potemkin slogans that sound great but don’t really mean anything (see also: “We are the change we’ve been waiting for”).

3) Despite Anheuser-Busch’s best efforts, the federal excise tax on beer did go up in 1991.

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