Raving Conservative


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Debate of the Week #3: Sin Taxes

Is it right for the government to try to stop people from activities like drinking and smoking by raising taxes on them until the cost of such activities becomes so prohibitive people are forced to give them up?

I say this is pure crap. For example, unless this has been repealed, I hear New York is taxing cigarettes at the rate of $3 a pack in an attempt to reduce the number of smokers for public health reasons. Give me a break. If they don’t want people to smoke in their city all they need to do is pass a city ordinance banning smoking within city limits. Of course this would never pass, so the tax-happy liberals in city hall decide to boost taxes instead.

Example #2: Alcohol taxes do nothing but raise the price of alcohol. The theory is that the tax revenue will help the local community. The reality is that for every $1 raised in tax revenues $10 is spent on the secondary effects of drunkenness; from court fees for crimes committed under the influence of alcohol, enforcement of drunk driving laws, injuries, deaths, and so-on. At the current tax rate taxing alcohol is pretty pointless, and raising the taxes to be high enough to cover the expenses will just hurt businesses while creating a bunch of moon shiners and home stills that will evade the oppressive taxes.

Sin taxes are waste of time and resources.

What do you think?


  • I think prohibition has failed. I think what we're currently doing is failing. I don't know the for sure answer, but have no problems with the notion of taxing stuff.

    Basically, what I'm in favor of is things reflecting their true cost. The cost of beer ought to include not just the cost of making it and profit, but should also include the costs to society.

    This is an argument that I've made before with you, I believe, in relation to pollution. I'll own up to not being certain that this is the best solution, but I do believe in personal accountability and paying for things as you go (conservative idealogy, yes?) and taxing seems one way to do it.

    I'd be open to other ideas, if there were any.

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 6:39 AM  

  • Well, Mr. Trabue, as with most liberal ideas, your idea sounds wonderful and makes me feel all warm and gooey inside. Yes, let's make things reflect their true cost to society. Who will determine what that cost is? For that matter, who will determine what criteria will determine that cost? Are we going to include up to the costs of the psychiatrist that treats the children of the parents killed in drunk driving accidents?

    Anywho, if the product is a horrible drain on society, then ban it. But keep your grubby, communist, hands out of our pockets.

    By Blogger fmragtops, at 7:39 AM  

  • Auto society is a horrible drain on our society (40,000 killed in the US each year, 1 million killed globally). Do you want to ban that?

    I might be in favor, but I doubt most would.

    Banning doesn't work so well, or so say my conservative friends.

    What's wrong with making costs reflect true costs? Seems like a reasonable, conservative idea to me.

    I'm glad I've helped you feel warm and gooey inside.

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 8:08 AM  

  • oh, daniel, sin taxes do NOT work! it's not the government's job to decide what's bad for us!! What happened to the God-given right of free will?
    BoUnCeS!! LibbY!

    By Blogger Libby, at 8:17 AM  

  • It's just another sign of "Big Brother is Watching You!" Sin taxes have never worked and all this means is that poor people who are truly addicted to nicotene will not give up their habbit; they'll give up something else they need before they will give up cigarettes. This doesn't help them, it just hurts them financially.

    By Blogger Gayle, at 8:21 AM  

  • Right on Gayle, Mr. Levesque.

    Here in the People's Republic of New York, bar and restaurant business dropped an estimated 35 percent when the State in its wisdom took away smoking "privileges" in those places. And, a tax is a tax, and high taxes on anything is a crime.

    I'm a non-smoker, and smoke bothers me, but it IS NONE OF THE STATE'S business!

    In the more enlightened State of New Hampshire (which we may move to soon) there are NO income taxes, NO sales taxes, you CAN SMOKE in restaurants, there is NO MOTORCYCLE helmet or SEAT BELT LAWS. If you want insurance on you car, you buy it. The state doesn't mandate it.
    Oh, the maximum property tax is in Rye, NH, and it's $14 per thousand of assessed.

    And, if your a resident, and not on the ATF/FBI badguy list, the state MUST BY LAW issue you a full concealed carry firearms permit WITHIN 48 hours of your application.

    "Live Free or Die" is their motto,
    and crime is almost non-existant.

    BTW, if you need a good military haircut while in Portsmouth, it's Jerry's Barbershop, right downtown.
    Run by Jerry, a retired cop, the place is covered with Navy/Army patches,bullet boards, and it's always full of Conservatives (mostly cops and military types). Jerry says the biggest crime in town is "overtime parking" and "too many liberals".

    A lovely city in a great state.

    Mr. Levesque: Please see top story on my blog today -- concerns Alaska and really big guns.


    Phantom Driver
    Proud Father of an American Soldier

    By Blogger meesterjoneser, at 9:22 AM  

  • So perhaps sin taxes don't work to end the sin. But can't sin taxes be used to abate the damage done?

    Again, who pays for the damage? Why should the taxpayers at large pay for some specific person's "sin"? Why not build in a charge to attempt to cover the cost?

    An example: In my home in Kentucky, there are somewhere around 900 auto deaths each year and I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of wrecks (many that disable people, in addition to the deaths). These wrecks come at a cost of $2-6 B-B-Billion a year in Kentucky alone!

    Who's footing that bill? We all are.

    Why should it not be the motorists? Personal responsibility, that's what I'm talking about. Pay as you go.

    Come on fiscal conservatives! Join this radical progressive!

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 9:35 AM  

  • It's time I added another two cents to this debate. Pay as you go is always a good idea, but penalizing people for engaging in activities that may or may not be detrimental to themselves is not. Drunk drivers are supposed to be covered by their insurance. Health insurance is available to smokers. Driver's education is available in every state and is required in some before anyone can get a license. Rather than taxing the heck out of everything we need to be taught how to engage in our freedoms responsibly, and we are doing that aleady. Surgeon General's warnings are on ciggarrettes and alcohol containers. Schools teach about the risks and effects of drugs, alcohol, and tobbacco. Once people have all the facts they have a choice to make. Oce that choice is made they are responsible for the consequenses. Penalizing folks for engaging in these freedoms is wrong.

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 10:16 AM  

  • I have no problem asking a specific person to pay for their specific damages, but how is it "pay as you go" if one motorist that has never been in a wreck has to pay for wrecks? That's just silly.

    I think you missed my point in my first post. I'm not necessarily supporting a ban on anything. My point is that "actual costs" could be twisted to include just about anything. And if some vice is so horrible then it should be gotten rid of instead of nurtured to create a tax base.

    If you want to make the drunk scumbag that injures someone in a crash pay "the actual costs" then that's fine. But if you want me to chip in on the actual costs because I have car or drink a beer irrespective of whether I was in a wreck, I say take a flying leap, hippy.

    By Blogger fmragtops, at 10:23 AM  

  • Driver's ed -- Agree. If everyone on the hiways today could qualify for a CDL (and submit to the drug test) and follow the rules, we'd really cut the death rate. However, that being said,

    Safety IS relative.

    For instance, if we simply reset the computer in cars, trucks, not to exceed the speed limit, or, better, to 10 miles per hour, wouldn't that save lives? If it saved just one kid's life, isn't the 10 mph national speed limit idea worthwhile?

    I'm not advocating 10mph speed limit, but the computers can be set to something reasonable.

    But, then again, if it's your child saved by 10 mph .. ??

    Quandrifying, isn't it?


    By Blogger meesterjoneser, at 10:25 AM  

  • ...and suing Cigarette manufacturers for manufacturing and advertising their product is wrong. Is it their fault if Louise smoked three packs a day and contracted lung cancer? I think not. We don't have to buy everything simply because someone produces and advertises it! Louise (Louise is fictitious) should be sued by the Tobacco Company for engaging in a frivolous lawsuit!

    (Sorry... I'm slightly off topic.)

    By Blogger Gayle, at 10:29 AM  

  • Penalties is where it's at. If one is caught and convicted of drunk driving, the priveledge of driving should be removed. Taxing people that are responsible drinkers or responsible drivers for the actions of a few is incorrect. Dan I know what you are going to say, "but what if they continue to drive ilegaly? If we put them in jail we still pay for them." I think making the 3 strike your out rule actually mean "out". People can make a mistake but some one who is doing this on a regular basis has no regard to innocent life, in turn I have no regard for theirs.

    By Blogger Dr. Phat Tony, at 11:00 AM  

  • I'm with the Doc. But when it comes to drinking to driving, and this may be a bit off topic, the trick is not higher fines or lower legal BAC levels. The trick is to make them easier to prosecute. I want to why you can't obtain a search warant to draw blood based on the probable cause obtained from a field interview and Standard Field Sobriety Tests?

    Sorry for going off topic there. Sin taxes still suck.

    By Blogger fmragtops, at 11:21 AM  

  • I'd say Doc has it right, but I'm not for killing people for drivinf illegally. Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated maybe, but driving without a license.

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 11:24 AM  

  • ummm. . . driving witout a lisence no.

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 11:36 AM  

  • The entire argument needs to be put into it's proper perspective. It's not about costs to society, it's not about "paying your share" or "paying as you go" or anything like that. It's about freedom.

    The question is, should the government decide, through taxation, what we can or cannot do. I realize that there is no "real" prohibition, you can still smoke or drink if you have the money but look at the overall effect. You are taking these things and slowly making them the exclusive property of the upper class. This doesn't sound very liberal to me.

    In addition, I strongly oppose most constraints on our personal freedoms. It is not the government's place to look after our personal well-being. The government can impose strict penalties for anyone who harms others through their actions. The government cannot (or should not) enter our homes and places of business and impose sanctions on people who are doing no harm to others. So long as these actions are legal, they should not be "punishable". Vice taxes are merely punitive taxes on legal actions.

    By Blogger Nightcrawler, at 12:25 PM  

  • NC said:
    It's not about costs to society, it's not about "paying your share" or "paying as you go" or anything like that. It's about freedom...

    I agree. It's about my freedom to enjoy clean air without your pollution. It's about my freedom to enjoy a walk down the sidewalk without fear of being smashed by your car (driving drunk or sober).

    Anytime someone brings up freedom in this context, they inevitably fail to realize that freedoms are already being taken away from some. The question is: Whose freedoms will be taken and who will do the taking?

    As it is now, our car culture takes freedom from the elderly, the sick, the young. And yes, motorists enjoy the liberty of driving as much as they want. Someone gains and someone loses.

    I'm just suggesting that the freedom of clean air or safe streets is of higher importance than the "freedom" to drive as much as you want.

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 12:53 PM  

  • You make an excellent pint Nightcrawler. But dan, how is car culture taking freedoms away from the sick and the elderly?

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 1:40 PM  

  • I missplaced the amendment that talked about Freedom of Clean Air. Dang it now I have to go look through the constitution for it.

    By Blogger Dr. Phat Tony, at 2:11 PM  

  • "I missplaced the amendment that talked about Freedom of Clean Air. Dang it now I have to go look through the constitution for it."

    Well, likewise, no one has a right to smoke, drink, or drive a car.

    By Blogger Wasp Jerky, at 3:47 PM  

  • Thanks for asking, Daniel (how auto culture is taking away from the elderly and sick).

    Actually, it's taking away from us all. But the elderly, young and sick pay a proportionately higher cost.

    As stated earlier, there are 40,000 deaths from autos in the US each year.

    Further, there are x millions injured in car wrecks each year in the US (I don't have that number handy, I can look it up if you doubt it's that high). Disproportionately, the wrecks kill and injure the young, the poor and the elderly.

    If the economic costs JUST of the wrecks JUST in Kentucky (not a hugely populous state) are $2 - 6 billion a year (by the way, that figure is from a KY State Police report), you can guess what it would be nationwide.

    That's money that's coming out of your and my wallets. Someone's paying for it, right?

    I'm saying that the economic burden of those wrecks - WHICH ARE AN INEVITABLE part of how our auto culture is set up - ought to be paid for by those who benefit by them - motorists.

    Personal Responsibility.

    This is not even beginning to talk about the environmental impact (and that's where I get that it affects the sick because air pollution due to cars is helping increase the number of and impact upon asthmatics and others). All I want to know is who's paying and why it isn't those responsible and getting the "benefit" of cars?

    Personal Responsibility.

    Is that a fair answer? It really is difficult to cover such a far-reaching policy in such a short space.

    And thanks Kevin and Dr. Tony for pointing out that the right to drive or clean air are not specified rights. Of the two, though, I'd think you could make a much more effective case that the Right to Clean Air ought to be.

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 4:46 PM  

  • Interesting viewpoint. While I can agree with much of what you say here in principle the real life application differs. For example, I would contend that the car culture actually saves the lives of the sick and the elderly because it allows such a swift response (ambulances) to administer life saving aid during an emergency, swift rescue response (fire trucks), and a timely police response to violent criminals. While cars do put out a lot of pollutants at least we are steadily making them cleaner.
    Car culture is a need for our way of life, we must deal with it. The best way to improve it for air quallity is to work on clean fuel technology, not to ban cars.

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 5:30 PM  

  • Here's the problem:

    It is not the role of the government to protect each and every one of us. It is their role to punish the people who abuse their freedoms to cause undo harm to others.

    If you do not wish to be bothered by the smoke of others, patronize restaurants that do not allow smoking. If you are walking down the street, I doubt you are going to be subjected to smoke for too long. If so, hold your breath until you are past it. If nothing else, politely ask the smoker to extinguish his butt. Most smokers are more than happy to oblige. We don't enjoy our habit and we don't want to force it on anyone else.

    The air is cleaner today than it was before automobiles. Your parents and their parents before them never knew such clean air.

    Automobiles do account for some economic costs, mostly from people who have no business being behind the wheel. Stiffer fines and jail time for offenders might remedy much of that problem. As far as the "costs", how much more productive are we, as Americans, now that we have automobiles? The increase in productivity has more than made up for any economic impact.

    By Blogger Nightcrawler, at 10:58 PM  

  • Well said!

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 11:42 PM  

  • Daniel, as to your ambulance/saving lives argument: Could we not have a reduced personal auto presence and still have ambulances and fire engines? Yes. So that particular argument is a wash, seems to me.

    NC, you said:
    "It is their role to punish the people who abuse their freedoms to cause undo harm to others."

    And I agree. I don't want my neighbor throwing his garbage in my yard and we have laws to that end.

    BUT I also don't want my neighbor throwing his pollution in my air, water and ground and demonstrably, autos are causing undo harm.

    What is the difference between the neighbor/garbage and neighbor/pollution analogy?

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 4:49 AM  

  • Well, last I knew the dirtiest air of all time was London prior to the widespread use of cars. With a couple million on the streets of London every day their air is still cleaner than it was dring the industrial revolution. Again, if pollution is your concern the realistic thing to do is invest in clean fuel technology.

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 6:55 AM  

  • If pollution is my concern, I'd want to see pollution-causing devices reduced and that they'd pay for the damage done.

    Less pollution now than then does not equal no pollution.

    I'd still like someone to explain your position on why it's okay to outlaw dumping garbage in my yard but not dumping pollution in the air? For me, it's the same principle: Holding people accountable.

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 10:47 AM  

  • Tell you what. We'll cover the air pollution thing in a future debate of the week we're getting off topic here.

    By Blogger Daniel Levesque, at 11:58 AM  

  • Don't know, motorists tax to pay for air pollution seems to fall under sin tax category to me. But waiting for another day is fine, too.

    Thanks for hosting this stimulating conversation.

    By Blogger Dan Trabue, at 12:49 PM  

  • Back in the '70s the most conservative state in the country, New Hampshire, was proud that it financed itself through sin taxes rather than an income tax.

    Taxing bad behavior made more sense than taxing people for earning money.

    Sounds like a good example of conservative ideology actually accomplishing something.

    The tobacco industry started financing the right wing, and now conservatives have done a 180 on this!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:33 AM  

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