Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination

Front Cover
William F. Shughart
Transaction Publishers, Jan 1, 1997 - Business & Economics - 396 pages

Taxing behavior deemed "politically incorrect" has long been a convenient way for politicians to fund programs benefiting special interest groups, to the public's disadvantage. Government policy toward various goods--drugs, tobacco and alcohol, for example--has been locked into a regulatory cycle of tax and taboo. Support for legalizing other substances is buttressed by the revenue-generating power of so-called "sin" taxesi And the products subjected to excise taxation have varied from soft drinks, fishing gear and margarine to airline tickets, telephone calls and gasoline. "Taxing Choice "thoroughly addresses the costs and benefits of these predatory public policies.

Shughart notes that the record of such punitive selective taxation has been anything but successful, hindering economic progress and failing to deliver the promised social benefits. In addition, the costs of selective taxes fall disproportionately on lower-income people, while more politically powerful interest groups benefit. At the same time, such policies are a poor way to raise funding for public services, and foster political corruption and self-serving bureaucracies accountable to no one. Indeed, policies discriminating against certain products may represent ominous trends easily extended into virtually every facet of people's lives. One can envision policies proscribing foods, sun bathing, obesity, and even books, films, and political and religious beliefs deemed "dangerous."

Part I is devoted to the political economy of selective taxation. Contributors trace the history and politics of selective excise taxes in the United States, discussing the range of products that have been subject to such taxation from the founding period to the present. Part II explains how these taxes emerge in a political marketplace with opposing pressure groups scrambling for wealth transfers in their own favor. Part III looks at taxes on specific products as well as such banning policies as Prohibition and the war on drugs. Constitutional, economic, and civil liberty issues, including civil asset forfeiture and product liability, are discussed in Part IV. With the accelerating national debate over tax reform and the downsizing of government, "Taxing Choice is "a timely and far-reaching contribution to a debate of great interest to economists, policymakers, historians, sociologists, and taxpayers in general.



Introduction and Overview
The Political Economy of Excise Taxation
The Economics of the Nanny State
Excise Taxes in Historical Perspective
Whiskey Margarine and Newspapers A Tale of Three Taxes
The Politics of Excise Taxation
Selective Excise Taxation from an InterestGroup Perspective
Overcoming Taxpayer Resistance by Taxing Choice and Earmarking Revenues
Predatory Public Finance and the Origins of the War on Drugs 19841989
The Taxation of Alcohol and the Control of Social Costs
Excise Taxes Social Costs and the Consumption of Wine
Bordering on Chaos Fiscal Federalism and Excise Taxes
Constitutional Liberties and Excise Taxation
Wealth Creation as a Sin
Gun Control Strict Liability and Excise Taxes
Civil Forfeiture as a Tax

Taxing Choice to Fund Politically Correct Propaganda
Bureaucratic Incentives and the Transition from Taxes to Prohibition
Alcohol Tobacco and Drugs
Prohibition The Ultimate Tax
16 Excise Taxation in the RentSeeking Society
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