Monday, March 16, 2009

He Who Will Not Learn From The Past

TWO-DAYS-LATER EDIT: Link to column added here.

Actual dialogue from one day early last week:

ME: Hi, I’d like a pack of [brand of cigarettes I used to smoke].

STORE CLERK: That’ll be $7.15.

ME: What!?

CLERK: The price of cigarettes went up again.

ME: (after intense five-second internal debate) Never mind. I’ll buy nicotine patches instead.

And I did. It’s been nearly a week now since last I enjoyed a sweet, sweet lungful of nicotiney goodness, but I derive similar satisfaction from knowing I’m denying the state its lucrative cigarette taxes. (Disclaimer: this is something like the fifth or sixth time I’ve quit smoking with the patch. But it’s the first time cigarettes have been this expensive, and also the first time the economy scared me enough to kick my miser instincts into overdrive. Also, the man I live with no longer smokes in my presence, which is always what made me fall off the wagon previous times.)

In other words, I have drastically reduced my consumer spending, which benefits me personally but will only add to America’s economic woes. Though perhaps I should not worry, because President Obama has said: “If we are keeping focused on all the fundamentally sound aspects of our economy, all the outstanding companies, workers, all the innovation and dynamism in this economy, then we’re going to get through this.”

The president thinks our economy is fundamentally sound. Which is very optimistic and might even convince people, if only Herbert Hoover hadn’t said nearly the same thing in late October 1929: “The fundamental business of the country … is on a sound and prosperous basis.”

Yet there are two ways Hoover’s America was on a sound and prosperous basis, compared to ours: In 1929 America was a net creditor, and the rest of the world owed us money. Today we’re Debtor Nation, over our heads in debt mostly held by countries (read: China) who would happily see us go down, so long as their own losses remained in the “acceptable” range. And in 1929 America was the world’s primary oil producer, able to meet our own oil needs and export petroleum to the rest of the world. Now we import most of our oil which, like our debt, is held by countries who don’t like us at all.

I have no politically realistic solutions for our dilemma, but I’m pretty sure “denying it exists” won’t work at all.

P.S. My column this week deals with the deleterious effects of my new, healthy lifestyle on the state budget; unfortunately, it didn’t go online. I’ll link to it once I add it to my online clipfile.


Blogger Windypundit said...

Sadly, you have just become a poster child for the raise-taxes-on-unhealthy-stuff-to-improve-public-health crowd. I hope you're proud of yourself.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Actually, Windy, I'm a poster child for the "Depending too much on tax money gleaned from non-necessities will really bite you in the ass when the economy gets bad" crowd.

Unrelated topic: I tried making a comment on your own blog recently, and could not do so. Something about registration or something. Or maybe I just can't take a hint.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

In other words, I have drastically reduced my consumer spending

$7.15 for a pack of smokes? What are they - organically grown? I can remember when a small bag of marijuana sold for less than that! I assume (quite safely) that about half the retail price is tax of one kind or another. That raises the question of whether paying a tax can really be considered "consumer spending?" It's a legal product, but they are taxing it to the point that it might as well be illegal for many. I suppose this is the state's attempt to eat its cake and have it, too, by pretending that you are free to smoke and then making it near impossible. It's sort of like telling people they have freedom of speech to say whatever they wish and then not allowing them to speak at all.

You know - an ounce of silver sells for slightly more than $13 on the spot market. That's less than the price of two packs of cigarettes in your state. If you really would like to strike a blow against the "system" as well as protect your assets, you could use your cigarette money to buy silver or gold instead of paying taxes with it. (Though you probably won't be able to actually find silver being sold at the spot commodity price.)

4:23 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Mostly taxes, yes. And the state tax is rising AGAIN this summer, and driving to the New York State Indian reservations is a pain in the ass (or so I've heard). I don't mind handing money over to the tobacco companies, but damned if I'll give any to the government.

So the fuckers killed the goose with the golden eggs.

And yeah, I already thought of buying silver with my cigarette money. I'll buy some ingots at the pawn shop, maybe.

8:18 PM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

I'll buy some ingots at the pawn shop, maybe.

Wouldn't you have to pay a sales tax that way? Perhaps you could buy on Ebay or online and avoid sales tax. Might be more expensive in the long run though. You'd know best about that.

About "killing the goose (or geese) that laid the golden eggs" - don't be surprised if they find an altogether different kind of goose to slaughter after the former kind are dead. (yes, I know how cheerful I am. Not!)

8:44 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Yeah, eBay shipping costs negate sales-tax savings for small items.

I'm even less cheerful than you, Smartass -- witness my last few posts as evidence. Sooner or later something's gotta give. Here's a particularly egregious example: the town I covered for the Advocate was notorious for raising taxes two or three times the rate of inflation every year for God-knows how long. This year, with the economy spiraling downward, they are once again raising taxes to twice the inflation rate. Even members of the "sacrifice and impoverish your self for The Children" brigade are starting to get fed up. This situation cannot continue indefinitely, and I'm not optimistic as to what'll happen when the breaking point is finally reached.

And such pessimism is based merely on the assumption that the status quo continues. God help us all when, on top of everything else, China calls in its debts. I have no doubt they'll do so the second they figure out how to keep their on economic losses in whatever they deem the "acceptable" range. Until then, America's own debt will only get deeper and deeper.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Windypundit said...

I don't know, taxing an addictive substance has got to make for a pretty reliable revenue stream.

On the unrelated topic: I don't require registration to comment on my blog, but my blogging software sometimes does. People tell me it asks them to register, but I can't reproduce the problem.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I don't know, taxing an addictive substance has got to make for a pretty reliable revenue stream.

For the most part it is. But the double whammy of a sudden price spike AND a dismal economy will sometimes lead to the opposite effect. And whatever money the state gets in cigarette taxes (mainly from The Poor) is money NOT spent on the private-sector economy that so needs spending right now.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Caveman Lawyer said...

I don't know if raising taxes cuts use all that much. I suspect people just drink less soda and go out less often to make up the difference in price. An addict is an addict after all and most people are too weak willed to gut it out and quit. It's easier to switch to generic soda and the cheeper diapers.

7:17 PM  
Anonymous Stevo Darkly said...

Good move all the way around, Jennifer.

And this will show those fat cats at the tobacco companies, too!

Of course, now it's urgent that we give them a bailout ...

Also -- given recent discussions of enacting "mileage taxes" to replace gas taxes, now that people are using less gas, buying hybrids, etc. -- the state will have to make up for the revenue shortfall from cigarette taxes by enacting a new tax on breathing.

3:29 PM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

You can cut down caffeine too, by adding only a little regular instant coffee to decaf.

The pleasant hit doesn't require anything like a full cup worth.

Unfortunatly decaf costs more, so it's not an economic move.

I'm told there are two kinds of taste buds, one kind of which is insensitive to the difference in taste between decaf and regular. That's the kind I have.

5:53 AM  
Blogger Caveman Lawyer said...

Actually you can cut caffeine out entirely. I've been caffeine free for several months now and once you get past the withdrawal phase it's easy. I've also cut refined sugar and most junk food too. It's amazing how much money I save by not buying that stuff. I get a bag of apples and snack on those instead, and apples are cheep.

6:21 AM  
Anonymous thoreau said...

I have no politically realistic solutions for our dilemma, but I’m pretty sure “denying it exists” won’t work at all.

You just hate the free market. :)

10:41 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

So it's been about three weeks now since you made this post - how are you doing with the withdrawal pangs? Are you still quit or did you backslide? The physical symptoms should be about gone by now, I would hope. Good luck with your quitting, however.

BTW, I found out from a neighbor just yesterday that a pack of cigarettes in Houston now costs over $7 a pack there as well; I don't see how people afford to smoke. The government is a contemptible bunch - any little thing to squeeze more money out of the populace at every turn. This country needs a serious tax revolt at all levels.

12:48 PM  

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