Britain taxed glass by weight from 1746 to 1845. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass_tax. With what we know today about Seasonal Affective Disorder, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195, and in light of our innate longing for the sun that expressed itself in primitive sun worship, that tax seems cruel. The tax was progressive, maybe, as the rich could afford glass more than the poor, but still.
Look, I sputter when I read this kind of thing: “[S]ales taxes on all business-to-business sales should be abolished along with all differential excise taxes on tobacco, alcohol and entertainment. These kinds of taxes, often called sin taxes, are disrespectful of people’s freely made choices and represent an unwarranted interference with private decision making.” Roy Cordato, http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/05/25/v-print/498695/sales-taxes-and-free-choices.html. So some folks would tax whisky like milk. I wouldn’t. But the Glass Tax shows that with differential excise taxes as with everything else, government can go badly wrong. Taxing medical devices seems like taxing prescription medicine or water — necessities that should be at the bottom of the list, despite the inelasticity of demand for them. But that’s a value judgment.