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Posts Tagged ‘Sin Tax’

I’ve written many times about how big businesses often climb in bed with politicians to lobby for anti-market policies such as subsidies, bailouts, and protectionism.

To get these special favors, they often deploy the “baptists and bootleggers” strategy, which means finding some nice-sounding reason for special interest policies.

For instance, the big health insurance firms lobbied for Obamacare because they liked the idea of getting undeserved profits by having the government force people to buy their products.

But they pretended that their motive was more access to health care.

Another example is the way some large companies are embracing “stakeholder capitalism” to curry favor with politicians and interest groups.

Today, let’s look at an additional version of this unsavory phenomenon.

The BBC reports that the CEO of a pretend-meat company likes the idea of big tax on his more tasty competitors.

The founder of the world’s biggest plant-based meat company has suggested that a tax on meat could help tackle some of the problems from growing meat consumption. Asked if he backed a tax on meat, Beyond Meat’s Chief Executive, Ethan Brown told the BBC “the whole notion of a Pigouvian tax, which is to tax negative, you know, things that are high in externalities, I think is an interesting one. I’m not an economist, but overall that type of thing does appeal to me”. …A tax on meat consumption would definitely be beneficial to companies such as Beyond Meat because it would make their products cheaper in comparison, says Rebecca Scheuneman, an equity analyst at US financial services firm Morningstar.How much of an advantage it would give “depends how significant the tax would be”, she told the BBC.

The woman from Morningstar is quite correct that a tax on meat would help the bottom line of companies that offer competing products.

Just as I wrote in 2012 that a tax increase on small businesses would tilt the playing field in favor of big businesses.

Matthew Lesh of the London-based Adam Smith Institute wrote about a potential meat tax in an article for CapX.

Beyond Meat’s call for a meat tax is a textbook example of ‘bootleggers and baptists’: a policy supported by a coalition of profiteering rent seekers hiding on the moral high ground. …does any of that make a new meat tax a good idea? …a cost-benefit analysis conducted by the University of Bristol concluded that a meat tax “could do more harm than good”. The researchers found it would cost £242 million a year but only save £100 million per annum in reduced carbon emissions. …Then there’s the most simple argument of all – most people enjoy meat. We get satisfaction and it provides important nutrients. …most people do not want to stop eating meat and there is substantial growing demand from the rising middle class in Asia and Africa.

While he makes a good point about the costs and benefits of meat taxation, I especially like Mr. Lesh’s point about people wanting to consume meat.

This is also why I don’t want politicians imposing sugar taxes.

Or taxes on other things that fall into disfavor, such as tobacco.  Or things that rise into favor, such as marijuana.

There are plenty of things in life that are unhealthy and/or dangerous. Maybe I’m just a knee-jerk libertarian, but I think adults should be free to make their own choices about the levels of risk they’re willing to incur.

And I certainly don’t want nanny state policies that – in reality – are the result of big companies trying to get unearned profits.

Remember, only earned profits are moral.

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Our statist friends like high taxes for many reasons. They want to finance bigger government, and they also seem to resent successful people, so high tax rates are a win-win policy from their perspective.

They also like high tax rates to micromanage people’s behavior. They urge higher taxes on tobacco because they don’t like smoking. They want higher taxes on sugary products because they don’t like overweight people. They impose higher taxes on “adult entertainment” because…umm…let’s simply say they don’t like capitalist acts between consenting adults. And they impose higher taxes on tanning beds because…well, I’m not sure. Maybe they don’t like artificial sun.

Give their compulsion to control other people’s behavior, these leftists are very happy about what’s happened in Berkeley, California. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, a new tax on sugary beverages has led to a significant reduction in consumption.

Here are some excerpts from a release issued by the press shop at the University of California Berkeley.

…a new UC Berkeley study shows a 21 percent drop in the drinking of soda and other sugary beverages in Berkeley’s low-income neighborhoods after the city levied a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. …The “Berkeley vs. Big Soda” campaign, also known as Measure D, won in 2014 by a landslide 76 percent, and was implemented in March 2015. …The excise tax is paid by distributors of sugary beverages and is reflected in shelf prices, as a previous UC Berkeley study showed, which can influence consumers’ decisions. …Berkeley’s 21 percent decrease in sugary beverage consumption compares favorably to that of Mexico, which saw a 17 percent decline among low-income households after the first year of its one-peso-per-liter soda tax that its congress passed in 2013.

I’m a wee bit suspicious that we’re only getting data on consumption by poor people.

Why aren’t we seeing data on overall soda purchases?

And isn’t it a bit odd that leftists are happy that poor people are bearing a heavy burden?

I’m also amused by the following passage. The politicians want to discourage people from consuming sugary beverages. But if they are too successful, then they won’t collect all the money they want to finance bigger government.

In Berkeley, the tax is intended to support municipal health and nutrition programs. To that end, the city has created a panel of experts in child nutrition, health care and education to make recommendations to the City Council about funding programs that improve children’s health across Berkeley.

In other words, one of the lessons of the Berkeley sugar tax and the 21-percent drop in consumption is that the Laffer Curve applies to so-called sin taxes just like it applies to income taxes.

But the biggest lesson to learn from this episode is that it confirms the essential insight of supply-side economics. Simply stated, when you tax something, you get less of it.

Which is something that statists seem to understand when they urge higher “sin taxes,” but they deny when the debate shifts to taxes on work, saving, entrepreneurship, and investment.

I’m not joking. I debate leftists all the time and they will unabashedly argue that it’s okay to have higher tax rates on labor income and more double taxation on capital income because taxpayers supposedly don’t care about taxes.

Oh, and the same statists who say that high tax burdens don’t matter because people don’t change their behavior get all upset about “tax havens” and “tax competition” because…well, because people will change their behavior by shifting their economic activity where tax rates are lower.

It must be nice not to be burdened by a need for intellectual consistency.

Speaking of which, Mark Perry used the Berkeley soda tax as an excuse to add to his great collection of Venn Diagrams.

P.S. On the issue of sin taxes, a brothel in Austria came up with an amusing form of tax avoidance. The folks in Nevada, by contrast, believe in sin loopholes. And the Germans have displayed Teutonic ingenuity and efficiency.

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Cigarette butt, to be more specific.

All over the world, governments impose draconian taxes on tobacco, and then they wind up surprised that projected revenues don’t materialize. We’ve seen this in Bulgaria and Romania, and we’ve seen this Laffer Curve effect in Washington, DC, and Michigan.

Even the Government Accountability Office has found big Laffer Curve effects from tobacco taxation.

And now we’re seeing the same result in Ireland.

Here are some details from an Irish newspaper.

…new Department of Finance figures showing that tobacco excise tax receipts are falling dramatically short of targets, even though taxes have increased and the number of people smoking has remained constant…the latest upsurge in smuggling…is costing the state hundreds of millions in lost revenue. Criminal gangs are openly selling smuggled cigarettes on the streets of central Dublin and other cities, door to door and at fairs and markets. Counterfeit cigarettes can be brought to the Irish market at a cost of just 20 cents a pack and sold on the black market at €4.50. The average selling price of legitimate cigarettes is €9.20 a pack. …Ireland has the most expensive cigarettes in the European Union, meaning that smugglers can make big profits by offering them at cheaper prices.

I have to laugh at the part of the article that says, “receipts are falling dramatically short of targets, even though taxes have increased.”

This is what’s called the Fox Butterfield effect, when a leftist expresses puzzlement about something that’s actually common sense. Named after a former New York Times reporter, Irish Tax Kisswho was baffled that more people were in prison at the same time that crime rates were falling, it also shows up in tax policy when statists are surprised that tax revenues don’t automatically rise when tax rates become oppressive.

Ireland, by the way, should know better. About the only good policy left in the Emerald Isle is the low corporate tax rate. And as you can see in this video, that policy has yielded very good results.

My favorite example from that video, needless to say, is what happened during the Reagan years, when the rich paid much more to the IRS after their tax rates were slashed.

P.S. You won’t be surprised to learn that a branch of the United Nations is pushing for global taxation of tobacco. To paraphrase Douglas McArthur, “Bad ideas never die, they become global.”

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