Monday, June 1, 2009

The Attack On Your Glass Intensifies

More about beer taxes. If others would stop writing about them, I'd be able to. I don't like writing about taxes - they're boring and controversial all at once. No one seems to be able to say anything intelligent because the emotions around the issues cloud the discussion of the issues themselves.

A few weeks ago, I linked to a Stephen Colbert piece on US Senate proposals to raise taxes on soda across the nation. Much of the same logic for raising taxes on beer is being used to justify tax increases on soda - except instead of alcohol the soda demon is HFCS. Although, like beer, the tax isn't on the demon itself (alcohol or, in this case, HFCS), but on the best-selling representative of the demon.

And that is my problem with these proposals. I choose to ignore all of the surrounding issues and, quite frankly, am relatively ambivalent about taxes themselves. I fully agree that the programs that these tax increases will support are good and valid programs that will help our society immensely.

But, is it really soda that's a problem? Or is it HFCS (or calories). Is it really beer that's a problem? Or is it alcohol. And if it's HFCS or alcohol, we shouldn't discriminate between producers of HFCS products or alcohol products.

Both Lew Bryson and Richard Posner agree that the taxes are likely to have little effect on moderating consumption anyway.
Posner: The solution, though, is not a tax on sodas, as such a tax would have only a small effect. A ban on advertising would be preferable; it would probably impose only slight costs on adult consumers of such drinks, because the advertising of such drinks contains little information

Bryson: I'm already buying beer that costs more than 90% of the beer sold in this country. The beer I buy costs almost twice as much a case as the popular beers do. What purpose will increasing the cost of every beer sold serve when the people who buy the more expensive beers are already paying that much and more? Simple: it's about raising revenues, not moderating behavior. And at that point, sweetie, you should be talking income or sales tax, or I should be voting your thieving, lying ass out of office.

In other words, these taxes do not have at the root of their policies the desire to get rid of the problem, only to profit from the problem by the easiest means necessary. If the state and federal legislatures felt that alcohol and HFCS were actually problems they would tax alcohol and HFCS - thereby affecting all products containing the alleged evil.

Walk into any retail liquor stores and ask the person behind the counter which product causes the biggest problems. Is malt liquor really a problem? Or is it cheap brandy, gin and vodka? Is it really the homeless buying brown bags of malt liquor and drinking it in the parks that are the problem? Or is it the alcoholic father buying a gallon of cheap gin a week who sits alone for hours at a time and drinks in his recliner in front of the tv neglecting and abusing his wife and children? I'll tell you which one is more visible. But I also know which one harms society more. Unfortunately, these taxes impose the greatest burden on the former while subsidizing the mental and physical health challenges caused by the latter.

And that's ignoring the whole fact that most of us enjoyably drink in moderation with no ill effect on society at all.

So, no, I will not support your taxes until you address the core issue and treat all alcohol (regardless of producer or lobby) the same.

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