Sin, Forgiveness, and Taxes

Professor John Blum presents a new framework for sin taxes, the restorative justice mode.  “Sin Tax, Forgiveness and Public Health Governance,” http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2042647.  An individual who sins “must acknowledge the harmful consequences of the conduct.”  I appreciate the thought, but wonder how taxes could apply differently to individuals on the basis on their acknowledgments.  If he is suggesting that.

That’s a new perspective, individual-based, which makes three for me.  The other two are:

Substance-based:  As someone who supports sin taxes, I’m more simplistic.  I “admit that the goal of sin taxes is to grant permission to . . . citizens to engage in unhealthy conduct.”  The other choices are prohibition and legality without taxation, neither of which appeals to me.  I agree that governments are not so explicit.

Revenue-based:  There’s another angle, another choice question:  what does government choose to tax?  Looking at the list of options, I’m arguing to tax bad stuff

A footnote to the forgiveness issue is the medical marijuana crowd, saying “don’t tax my medicine.” They would be insulted to be asked to acknowledge harmful consequences.  The problem is that the line between medical and recreational use is hard to draw (and easy for the user to fake).  The same issue – sin or boon — comes up even for alcohol (from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1741735):

To the extent that a small daily amount of alcohol promotes health, a tax exemption, or even a subsidy, for the use of such an amount might be ideal (but unadministrable).  See Dale Gieringer, “Economics of Cannabis Legalization,” National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, at 7 (June 1994), available at http://www.prohibitioncosts.org/NORML_Economics_Cannabis_Legalization.pdf (last visited September 7, 2010).

There’s more I want to think about using the individual model:  What about gasoline taxes?  Is it a sin to have a big carbon footprint?  Is drinking soda a sin?  Or is it a sin only for the obese?

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Author: patoglesby

From 1982 to 1990, I worked in tax policy for Committees of the United States Congress. In recent years, I was Adjunct Lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill's Business School and then Adjunct Professor at its Law School.

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