Stupid Tax

The stupid tax is what you pay when you fail to put money in a parking meter. I think it ought to be extended to people who publish dumb arguments, such as the one we find today in *The Washington Post* from our favorite author, George Will. At issue is the explicit moralizing of the tax code–taxing or otherwise excluding from tax benefits industries that promote certain vices–gambling, hot-tubbing, among other things. The absurd reality of the selective tax-code moralizing probably even turns out to be dumber (and more inconsistent) than Will suggests.

But that’s not really the point. Will argues that the problem with such silly moralizing consists in government’s engaging in, of all things, speech:

>But do we really want to march down this road paved with moral pronouncements? When government uses subsidies to moralize, as with tax preferences for bonds that can be used to finance this but not that, government is speaking. It is expressing opinions about what is and is not wholesome. And once government starts venting such opinions, how does it stop?

If you’re wondering what “government” means, you’re not alone. As far as we know, the government responsible for the tax code is that government so frequently re-elected by the people. Theoretically, people of every party elect them to represent them–often they are even called “representatives.” Part of this representation involves the crafting of laws to reflect, or to represent the will of the interests that elect them. Some of these interests are “moral” ones. And so they engage in all sorts of moralizing with laws (don’t do this or that, or you’ll be fined or otherwise punished). The tax code is a subset of this explicit moralizing. Taxes are one (often unfortunate) means of doing this.

As for the slippery slope problem Will alleges to abide in such behavior: such moralizing stops when the moralizers violate constitutional protections or, as is more likely to be the case, don’t get re-elected (or perhaps get indicted).