tanning beds and taxing the poor

For some people the health care funding and decision-making law that passed a few weeks ago is a political triumph for President Obama and it is exciting because it is “historical.” Some people may even benefit from it.

But for many, many people the new law is an expression of a new American mindset. Admittedly, this mindset was put in motion in the late 19th century by the Progressives, implemented by short-sighted people like Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, and expanded under blind leaders like Lyndon Johnson and the George Bushes.

So maybe I should call it a “renewed” mindset rather than a new one.

In the last two years I’ve seen an alteration in the common discourse that I was oblivious to before that. Maybe it was there and certainly it could be found if you looked for it. But in the summer of 2008 someone gave the parrots permission to talk about Progressivism in positive light.

Now everywhere I go on the internet I read articles and comments that defend and use the word Progressivism instead of the word liberalism.

Progressivism is like Depressions. The people who live through them are very careful with their money and tell their children about what they endured. They avoid debt and, for the most part, so do their children. But the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, lacking a historical sense, forget. So they lay the foundations for the next cycle.

But it’s not the big words that concern me, it’s the open commitment to meddling. The latest is the tax placed on tanning beds. Did you know that you will have to pay a 10% tax to use a tanning bed.

So far, that seems like not a big deal. But what bothers me is the mentality of those who defend it. It seems that the reason this tax is acceptable is because tanning is bad for you. So the government, by slapping a tax on it, might discourage people from engaging in this carcinogenic activity.

It confirms to me that the battle over cigarette smoking was only an early field test in this battle.

What am I failing to understand? Why is it so hard for people to get their heads around the fact that they are giving increasingly unlimited power to a government that, as President Obama repeatedly pointed out in his campaign, isn’t trustworthy – plus it doesn’t like them?

What are we afraid of that is so scary that we run into the wolvish mouth of the state?

It seems to me that the reason lies in the national habit of thinking tokens instead of thoughts. Words and political gestures are symbols. People can’t imagine those symbols coming alive in their own lives, so they just enjoy them. Orwell predicted this.

Today you will be taxed for using a tanning bed. Tomorrow you might still have to pay the “Botax,” but since you have an interest group and lots of money behind your right, the state will have to wait until they can demonize you. You’ll probably make it. You know how to play the game.

The people who are going to carry the burden of this new American mind are those who can’t afford the lawyers.

Did you notice? Everything just became a special interest.

One Response

  1. I believe some of the justification for the tanning bed tax arises from the external cost it imposes upon society. If one goes to a tanning bed, one raises the likelihood of skin cancer. Even if the government isn’t paying for the treatment, it drives up insurance costs and increases demand, causing health care to become more expensive for everyone else. Imposing a tax is one way to internalize an externality; that is, it shifts (at least some) of the cost society has to bear onto the one making the decision whether or not to incur that cost. In other words, it forces the economic agent to take into account a cost that he or she otherwise would not in making his or her decision.

    I think that argument is helpful, but it doesn’t necessarily get to the more important political question: what teleology are we making our political decisions within?

    For modern liberals, I think its fair to say that the purpose of political society is to allow individuals to choose autonomously in the realm of social and moral issues, while preserving them from their bad choices in economic issues.

    For modern conservatives, the purpose of political society seems to be to maximize the individual’s autonomous choice in the market, while protecting the individual from his bad moral choices.

    Both could, in theory, support the use the tanning tax: conservatives because it’s a bad moral choice, and liberals because its a bad economic choice.

    Alternatively, both could, in theory, also oppose the tax: conservatives because it infringes on the agent’s economic choice, and liberals because it infringes on the individual’s moral autonomy.

    Which they actually support may come down to which side each views as more important. The current breakdown of opinion between the two suggests both may view economic issues as more pressing currently than moral issues: liberals will side with economic restraint, while conservatives will side with economic autonomy.

    I think there’s an entirely different way to approach the problem. The Aristotelian way to approach the problem would be to reject atomic individualism and the correlated view of freedom as choice without limits. Instead, Aristotle views freedom as facilitating those human possibilities which contribute to human excellence to come into actuality.

    The purpose of the polis, then, is to facilitate human excellence, and the means Aristotle says it uses to do this is by encouraging what is good and discouraging what is bad to the extent this is practical.

    The question for the tanning bed tax, posed in Aristotelian fashion, is: is using a tanning bed generally disposed towards human excellence (including physical excellence) or is it not? If it is not, are there any practical means by which we might discourage it?

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