Saturday, December 29, 2007
My first reaction to Michael's call for higher taxes on beer and wine was to knock off a witty post to the effect that my good and Catholic friend Michael had been kidnapped by aliens from the Planet Puritron, from the galaxy of Prohibitia, and is now part of a plot to use the resources of Catholic Social Thought to advance decidedly non-Catholic (i.e., tee-totalling) aims.
But I decided against that. More seriously, folks . . .
I agree with Michael that, as a rule, it seems the costs (broadly understood) of behavior should fall on those who engage in the behavior. Of course, we'd also want to ask whether the benefits of the behavior in question are similarly internalized; if someone is dispensing benefits (for which she is not being compensated) through her behavior, she might have a decent argument against bearing the full costs of that behavior. This might be a relevant distinction between tobacco -- which benefits no one besides the immediate user -- and alcohol, which does. (I take it that sociability, conviviality, and well run dinner-parties are good things. Second-hand smoke is not.)
Beyond that -- and I'll defer to tax-policy jocks on this one -- it is my understanding that many tax-experts question the wisdom and utility of using targeted taxes -- as opposed to other means -- to raise the costs of particular behaviors, in the hopes of changing those behaviors. But -- to be clear -- I don't know enough about the issue to make me confident that using targeted taxes in this way is, generally, unwise.