You're all familiar with Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, which argued that government regulations and taxes could be used to subtly influence individual decisions to attain preferred outcomes. There are a number of reasons to object to the model, one of which is its imagery: a shove, however gentle, is a form of assault and battery even if it is a shove 'in the right direction.' Another is its arrogance, which presumes that government and not the individual is best placed to determine which is 'the right direction.'

In any case, it looks like the GOP tax bill would slash some of these 'nudges.' Unfortunately it does not eliminate them, but it does at least improve upon them. Naturally, the effect of this is described as murderous: a sort of intentional killing of the innocent by the lowering of their sin taxes.
As alcohol-linked deaths continue to rise, the Senate is expected to vote on a tax bill this week that would exacerbate this public health problem. Tucked away in the Senate’s tax bill is the “Craft Beverage Modernization” provision, which would cut federal excise taxes on alcohol producers, particularly small brewers. A recent Brookings Institution report estimates that this legislation would “result in between 281 and 659 additional motor vehicle fatalities… (relative to a baseline of 37,461 deaths [in 2016]) and 1,550 additional alcohol-related deaths” per year.
They would have you believe that higher taxes are literally good for you.

The real intent of the bill is to streamline alcohol taxes in such a way as to eliminate some unfair advantages enjoyed by major producers, as opposed to the smaller 'craft beer' producers who are flourishing now. Those outfits are producing some really fine beer, too, which improves our quality of life in a much more obvious way than does the paying of taxes.


raven said...

"Nudge", eh? For our own good? Like for example that food pyramid promoted in every school in the country. with meat and fat at the peak, supported by a vast foundation of carbohydrates, that effectively taught generations to kill themselves with obesity and diabetes?

As much as I despise the idea of "nudging", I doubt the direction of the push even more- those moralizing busybodies are more likely to "nudge" someone right off the cliff as they are to push them onto safe ground. Unintended consequences and all. There is a reason "I 'm from the Government and I am here to help" has become an iconic irony.

Grim said...

Good point. There is some evidence that alcohol consumption, except at the very highest levels, actually improves health outcomes. It depends on how you define 'heavy drinking' -- if you mean 'more than 2 drinks a day,' it's associated with healthier outcomes; if you mean '11 or more drinks a day,' it's associated with much earlier death. The ideal level for an adult man may be as high as 4 drinks a day. So should I 'nudge' people to drink less if they're drinking 1 drink a day? 2? 3?

The evidence points strongly against the idea that the government is correctly capturing that distinction.

DLSly said...

Living, as I do, in the heart of one of the countries most prolific craft beer regions, I can attest to not only the benefits, but also the tastiness, of proximity.
Just sayin'.

Grim said...

There are some good ones down South now too. Terrapin Brewery in Athens, Georgia, has some solid entries.

E Hines said...

This is just one more argument against the use of our tax code for social engineering. Our Constitution permits taxing for precisely three purposes: to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States. And the general Welfare accessible to the Federal government is explicitly specified, as well: the 16 succeeding clauses of the Section.

There's not a syllable anywhere in the Constitution that permits taxation for social engineering, whether by a nudge or with a cudgel.

Either of the tax bills, whether the one on offer from the House or the one being debated in the Senate (subject to the petty egos of 3-4 Republican Senators), would be a good step toward cleaning up the messes in our current tax code.

Eric Hines

Texan99 said...

Gosh, not only are taxes good for us, but lowering taxes is literally murdering us. It's as if I were bent on self-destruction, and only the IRS could save me.

Tom said...

The sequel, Wink: How to Fool All of the People Some of the Time was quite good, too.

J Melcher said...

"This is just one more argument against the use of our tax code for social engineering."

And a good argument, at that. I compare the problem to that of a general all-goods import tariff to raise revenue -- some of which is used to help citizens in industries adversely affected by competition from foreign providers -- and protective and targeted tariffs specifically to aid favored, admittedly afflicted, industries at the expense of Bastiat's unseen third parties. Recall the British Townshend Acts on the American colonial consumer's price of sugar, glass, *Tea*, and other products, notably the the Molasses Act. Despite the real problem of financing the war against the French and (some, hostile) Indians, the point of the Molasses tariff was less to raise revenue, but give a exemption and monopoly to British West Indies ("domestic") molasses instead of allowing open competitive imports from French, Spanish, and other producers. To "nudge" the American colonies into patriotically supporting their fellow-subjects of King George.

To treat the "nudge" of tax policy as a new idea, and to ENDORSE this practice, is profoundly anti-American, at least from the historical Enlightenment perspective.