Politicians are used to getting their way, and so are powerful non-profits, so they tend not to look at defeat as losing, but as an opportunity to try to win a different way. Certainly they’d never openly admit they’re wrong or have lost. If one strategy doesn’t work, they try another. The will of the people or common sense rarely matters, what matters is winning.
And so the new alcohol tax for the city of San Francisco, as proposed by supervisor John Avalos, was vetoed by mayor Gavin Newsom. But that’s hardly the end of it. I’m sure that Avalos and his backing organization, the Marin Institute, are still trying to strong-arm the three supervisors who voted against the new tax in the hopes of an override, but in the meantime, they’re also looking at others ways to realize their agenda. The determination of the minority who claim the moral high ground will not be stopped so easily. Their dream of punishing the majority of lawful, responsible drinkers for the excesses of the few will not go gently into that long goodnight. Likewise, their dream of punishing the big alcohol companies with a scheme that will barely register on their radar while at the same time causing real harm to the local economy, to local restaurant and bar owners and employees, and to hundreds of small family-owned breweries, wineries and distilleries will also not stop, but will instead just veer off in a different direction.
Just hours after Newsom’s swift veto of the alcohol tax, “supervisor John Avalos says the measure might be taken to voters to override Mayor Gavin Newsom’s veto.”
Unfortunately, every news outlet keeps repeating the lie that the tax would only add “a few cents per standard serving of beer, wine or hard liquor.” Don’t any of these news outlets fact check? As the business community has tried to explain — and any person with a functioning brain should understand — the initial tax (like all costs of doing business) will be marked up along the supply chain from wholesaler to retailer to consumer. Seriously, how hard is that to comprehend? This won’t be a “nickel a drink,” more like a buck a drink. Okay, maybe not that much for most, but if I have to keep hearing it’s only a nickel, I think I’m within my rights to engage in a little hyperbole, too. At least I’m up front about it. I feel like if I turn around, I’ll see Upton Sinclair shaking his head behind me. As he observed, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.” And so it goes.
And what also doesn’t get talked about — but should — is that alcohol is already the most taxed consumer product on planet America, with the possible exception of tobacco. But tobacco, you may recall, has no health benefits whereas the moderate consumption of alcohol has plenty, not least of which is that you’ll most likely live longer if you drink a little instead of abstain.
Every state and community is having trouble paying for the services its citizens feel entitled to, and that’s undoubtedly a real problem. I personally believe politics has led us down this path, but regardless I don’t believe politics can save us from it, either. Everybody wants the services, but curiously no one is willing to pay for them. No one wants their taxes to go up, even though that’s probably the fairest way to get us out of this mess. Instead, politicians keep trying to find a solution that doesn’t seem like a tax, in most cases just so they can continue to say they’re against more taxes, for no grander purpose than they want to keep their jobs. So when the Marin Institute whispered in the ear of John Avalos, “psst, have I got a ‘fee’ for you,” … he listened.
And in the end, that’s why I’m so vehemently opposed to this type of tax. It’s dishonest at its core. It argues from a false premise. I don’t really care how much the tax is, it’s patently unfair at any amount. It takes the all too familiar position that drinking alcohol is somehow a sin and therefore people should have to pay to enjoy it. Bullshit. I don’t believe that and neither should you. The concept of sin is a religious “belief” and last time I checked the Constitution guaranteed that I can believe otherwise and that in any event religion, where the idea of sin flourishes, should have nothing to do with the governing of alcohol policy or any other damn law.
What we have is decades of demonization working its way into a discussion it should have no part in. It’s utter nonsense to suggest that alcohol “made” people abuse it and further that the people who make it and sell it share that blame, too. When we start taxing ammunition and gun companies for the crimes people commit using their products then come talk to me about charge for harm. When we start taxing soda companies, high fructose corn syrup makers, fast food chains and red meat companies for the obesity epidemic and the burden it places on our healthcare system then come talk to me about charge for harm. When we start taxing the oil companies and car manufacturers for the loss of the ozone layer and other natural disasters from their dismantling of mass transit and people driving too much then come talk to me about charge for harm. Virtually every human activity does some harm to someone or something. Trying to calculate all of them and figure out who owes what is a fool’s errand. And that’s why we don’t, except when it comes to alcohol. Alcohol has been a convenient scapegoat for well over a century now, and there’s no end in sight for the ills of society it can be blamed for.
My biggest fear if this does go to a vote, is that the mis-information and propaganda out there has created a populace that believes one thing when another is closer to the truth. One of the most potent takeaways from the quasi-debate that KQED aired a few weeks ago, was how frighteningly uninformed many people are about this issue. So many have let emotions, inflated statistics and one-sided reporting inform them on this issue that I think a lot of people will happily pull that “yes” lever, blissfully ignorant of how unfair it is and how their emotions have been manipulated by propaganda and fear. And that’s a direct result, I think, of our local media just uncritically parroting propaganda in favor of the tax and all but ignoring any meaningful opposition.
But long term it’s also because we allow the debate to start from the premise that alcohol is bad in and of itself. It’s not. All the evidence you need to disprove that is your own behavior and those of almost everyone around you, easily able to responsibly drink moderate amounts of alcohol. You’re the majority. You’re the norm. You’re doing something good; good for you and for society. Drink up. Enjoy yourself. Don’t let fear and propaganda win the day.