Walk This Way, Talk This Way
As we’ve discussed before on Show-Me Daily, Missouri residents enjoy lower tax rates on “sin” products (e.g., beer, wine, spirits, cigarettes, and gasoline) than residents in neighboring states. In an editorial published on Friday, the St. Louis Business Journal editorial board argued that Missouri should increase its tax rates on these products as a means to cover its $600 million budget deficit.
Although I disagree with many of the points made in the editorial, and intend to address them in a future blog post, I find the following to be particularly egregious (emphasis mine):
This is more than a matter of budget balancing: It’s sound public policy. Higher taxes are meant to be a deterrent to behaviors that harm individuals and society as a whole.
Laws and the judicial system — not higher taxes — exist to deter individuals from harming others and society as whole. If a person causes physical harm to another person or property, then he or she gets sent to jail. If a person happens to view a behavior (i.e., smoking, consuming alcohol) as destructive, then he or she can choose not to engage in this behavior and perhaps persuade others to abstain also.
Every activity is associated with some level of risk, and individuals must weigh the costs and benefits of these activities. If I chose to engage in an activity, I accept the risk as a free adult. If I drive my car to work, I could crash into another car. If I walk instead, I could fall through an open manhole and break my leg. If I frequent the beach, I may get skin cancer. If I eat fatty food, I could develop heart disease.
As Peter McWilliams argues in Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do (which we read recently in the Show-Me Institute’s book club), it’s not the role of the government to protect individuals from risk or negative outcomes. He argues:
As we take risks, bad things will occasionally happen—that’s why they’re called risks. At that point, we must learn to shrug and say, “That’s life,” not, “Why isn’t there a law against this? Why isn’t the government protecting me from every possible negative occurrence I might get myself into?” When we, as adults, consent to do something—unless we are deceived—we become responsible for the outcome.