Loyal MR readers will know that I am a strong and genuine non-paternalist. But if you are a paternalist, and you are looking for one place to start, well...it's not just the injuries that should point your attention in this direction. We have to raise tax revenue from somewhere, right? Currently we are subsidizing cheerleading and, along the lines of Robert Frank's column, that makes no more sense than subsidizing fuel.
Funny, I know, but I also think that it brings to light a pretty serious problem with the practical realities, if not the very idea, of Pigovian taxation: namely that the task of figuring out which negative externalities actually deserve to be taxed is by no means a trivial one, and so there is usually a quite a lot of heavy-duty-if-nevertheless-unarticulated moralizing underlying what can look on paper to be a matter of straightforward mathematics. And the outcome, as I have rather snarkily put it, very often looks more a backdoor route to the regulation of designated public vices (like driving and polluting, say, or maybe even stripping) than a simple matter of making people pick up the tab for the direct and indirect consequences of the things they choose to do.
Not that there's anything wrong with moralizing: quite the contrary, and indeed one of my standard complaints about overreliance on using taxes as tools for social engineering has been that such measures eliminate the need for substantive practical reasoning and put in its place a system where we manage to do the right thing simply by, in Ezra Klein's helpful phrase, shopping for the best bargain. (Both Ezra and Ryan Avent have responded to these complaints at some length.) But the problem here is that what I take to be the standard sort of Pigovian argument -- roughly, behaviors of type B have been shown to have probable negative consequences with social cost C, and therefore the sticker price of B-ing should be made to include those down-the-line costs -- is one that generalizes, dammit, and so threatens to include all sorts of totally non-tax-worthy behaviors unless clauses are attached that can do the requisite ruling-in and -out. In a nutshell, the problem is that not all negative externalities are created equal, and the task of figuring out which among them deserve to have their free passes revoked not going to be taken care of by appealing only to things like rising sea levels and likely health care costs.
Where to go from here? Hey, that's not my department -- like Cowen, I'm not much of a paternalist, and even when I am one I'm not especially inclined to paternalize by way of the tax code. But it seems to me that a more open and honest recognition that Pigou's ideas did not, after all, free policymakers of the responsibility of weighing costs and values with measures other than that of the dollar would be a nice step in the right direction.
P.S. Cf. the man himself.