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January '03: Taxes

February '03: Coffee


January, 2003

Hold it!

Tax cuts are medicine for a recession, say most economists; they divert money from government coffers back to the people who earned it. The theory is that individuals spend the money more quickly and more diversely than the government could. Theory's theory, but when real-life politicians see tax revenues dropping from a recession (when the economy slows, tax revenue based on percentages of income and expenditure also slows) their swift and immediate reaction is to shore up the money stream -- their money stream. Faced with a recession, politicians often raise taxes.

Last time that happened was in 1991. From that we got lots of "targeted" taxes. Taxes were imposed on a variety of safe products, "safe" because no one would complain about them. Tax penalties were imposed on rich folks' toys like yachts and luxury cars, and no one complained. Additional taxes were imposed on beer, a fair chunk of additional taxes, and no one complained.

What?! More beer tax, and no one complained? Beer consumption dropped slightly so brewery jobs were lost (in the middle of a recession), and no one complained? Of course not. No one ever complains loudly about beer taxes (or any kind of booze taxes). They're called "sin taxes," taxes on the things we all "know" we shouldn't really do. After all, you don't really need beer, do you? (Beware: if you answer "Yes!", you're liable to be called an alcoholic and stigmatized.) No, not any more than rich people need yachts. I guess.

Oh, bullshit. I do need beer. It tastes good, and nothing else tastes like it. I want that taste, and to get it, I need beer. And it pisses me off that the government balances their budget on our backs because we won't say "Enough!" Meanwhile, the teetotalers laugh their butts off and spend their money on Ovaltine and Welch's.

All that wouldn't sting nearly so much, though, if it weren't that the rich folk had successfully, quietly, adroitly lobbied to have those yacht and luxury car taxes repealed. That's right, every one of the recession-spawned taxes of 1991 have been lifted except the one on beer. There's fairness for you. The only tax increase that affected people who weren't in the top tax bracket is still in place.

And sure enough, like dogs returning to their folly, politicians have returned to beer to bridge the tax shortflow of the current recession. Across the country, state legislatures are considering additional beer taxes, knowing that people won't stand up and say, "Hold it, hold it! Don't tax my beer!"

They know that if they say that, their neighbors will say "What's that, Jim? Can't afford to pay another 50 cents a six-pack? Gotta have that beer or you'll just fold up, eh?" So they sit down and say nothing.

Listen to me: "Hold it, hold it! Don't tax my beer!" Damn straight. Is it only beer drinkers that are affected by the recession? So why should they have to pay more for it than other people? I can think of no good reason whatsoever. Is it because beer isn't a necessity? Tax manicures then, tax TV evangelists, tax frozen yogurt, tax websites!

Sound stupid?

Of course it is, and so is taxing beer. There's no reason for taxing beer more than orange juice except one: we'll pay it.

Don't. Ask your state rep if there are any beer tax increases pending in the legislature. If there are, tell them you're opposed to them. Then tell them that if they have to raise taxes, you don't mind paying your fair share, but they should do it broadly, evenly, and fairly. This country was founded on tax revolt, and while we don't need to grab a musket and kiss the family goodbye, we do need to make a call. Get to it, we're counting on you.

 

 
Copyright 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: October 31, 2003