Saturday, April 26, 2008

Beer Tax

Every so often one rolls by that just makes you say, "What??" (I've been reading the wonderful comic strip Candorville, in which people regularly say "What?")

As reported in the invaluable San Francisco Chronicle, a group of students in San Jose is revolting (that's an active verb, not an adjective. Yet.) over the fact that one of California's proposed ways to close the budget deficit is to increase the
tax on beer by as much as $1.88 per six-pack. Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, proposes to raise the beer tax from 20 cents per gallon to $2.88 per gallon.

The San Francisco State Republicans are marching around
outside Assemblyman Beall's offfice in San Jose, complaining about "a tax on poor students." They're waving signs reading, "Students Opposed to Unjust Taxation!", and (I really can't believe this one) "No taxation on intoxication."

OK, let's rephrase this in simple English. A group of self-identified Republican students complain that an increase in the tax on beer is an infringement of their right to get drunk at the end of a long day of studying, because they're too poor to afford an additional $1.88 a six-pack. These are college students, so only the
graduate students and some seniors can even drink beer legally; but they're acting as if they were the Sons of Liberty, dumping tea into Boston Harbor.

It's perfectly true that sin taxes, like this one, are regressive taxes on the poor, if only because all sales taxes are regressive taxes on the poor. I just find it hard to put the words "poor" and "Republican" in the same phrase, although I realize I am stereotyping. Still, "poor" and "student" are normally coupled, so we'll let that one pass.

"Fight for your right to party!" they complain. I knew the educational system was bad, but in this case it has clearly failed miserably, because these yokels can't distinguish between a "right", like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, and a "privilege", which means that, if they are over 21 years old and have the money, they are allowed to buy and drink beer, as long as they don't drive a car afterward.

Students under 21 have no "right" to buy or drink beer at all, under any circumstances. Period. Regular readers of this blog know that my husband is a recovering alcoholic. Alcoholism is no joke, and there were reasons it was once prohibited, even though the cure turned out to be worse than the disease and was eventually repealed. There's a level at which society can't protect people from their own stupidity; but there's no social obligation to make that stupidity affordable. Or easy.

The article contains some serious statistics about the effects of underage drinking, which unfortunately these kids are not reading. One of the protest organizers says that "some of his fellow students spend as much as 60 percent of their paychecks on beer." Based on my experience, frankly, those students are at very high risk for alcoholism right now. I hope they wake up to the problem and stop before they do themselves real damage.


  1. I think the problem here is that we're using an argument "against" underage drinking and logically challenged college students to support a regressive tax. I'm certainly not in favor of "no taxes"--but taxation has limits.

    Our society has allowed itself to become bankrupted by allowing big capital to chase profit margins outside our borders. It has even been led to encourage this process by giving perks and incentives to do so. This has had the predictable effect of squeezing the tax rolls across the spectrum, from the corporate and business sector, right down to the garbage man. The real percentage of GNP subject to tax has been shrinking in real terms for at least four decades. That means that no matter how fast we increase tax rates, no matter what we tax, we can't keep up with the ordinary expenses government--at al levels--became accustomed to funding over that same period. And to top it off, of course, Republicans have been steadily trimming the obligation of the rich and super rich, while enforcement of existing tax laws has been allowed to languish.

    In other words, no matter how big the deficits become at any level of government, they'll never be able to tax what is left of the running economy to make up that difference.

    It's another way of saying that the wealth of the planet, which is finite, has undergone a titanic shift. Americans must realize that because we no longer produce things, no longer generate products in significant numbers, we'll no longer be a well-off society. Everything we depend upon--schools, roads, police protection, social welfare, etc.--is going to decay. It's inevitable.

    So taxing beer, or taxing gas, or taxing the freeways, or taxing the lady who paints your nails, at whatever rate, isn't going to "save us" from this dilemma.

    We have to acknowledge that in order to preserve the standard of living to which we had become accustomed during the immediate post-War period, we're going to have to legislate--or mandate--capital investment AT HOME. We have to say to capital, simply, if you screw Americans in their jobs and health care and pensions and environment, you won't thrive.

    I sincerely doubt that we have the political will to bring this off. In the meantime, though, there is more or less general agreement, that as the pot shrinks, the pigs will get leaner, and the belts will be cinched tighter.

    I'm entering my dotage. Like everyone else, I want to grab as much of life as I can before I leave, and if that means enjoying the fruits of the last vestiges of a dwindling prosperity that I'm legally entitled to, I'm going to do it. I'm not going to enter the Peace Corps and go to Africa to teach English or how to dig a decent well. We already pay something like 40% of our income to taxes, and I'm not counting the sales and homeowner taxes and use fees and all the other nicks and chisels that we get hit with.

    Taxing beer? Come on, guys. We've tried legislating morality before. It doesn't work. I'm certainly no Republican. But beer is the least of the world's problems. Let's bite the bullet and admit that our society's tax systems are completely fucked up; let's get back to a graduated, indexed, system, and make business pay its share.

    If you walk the street they'll tax your feet....

    In the meantime, one child per family, for every couple on the earth. That's for starters.

  2. Anonymous3:37 PM

    How are you going to prevent twins?

  3. How's this for science fiction: If you never got to see the same person twice? A life of inexhaustible ennui.

    Who wants to prevent twins?

    China got it right. But they probably started too late. They're busy screwing up their country, even if their population does stabilize.