Oklahoma joins the ranks of states currently considering raising the tax on beer and other alcohol due to budget shortfalls, in effect punishing alcohol companies and the vast majority of people who enjoy drinking their products responsibly. According to the Oklahoman, the heads of three state health agencies, Health Commissioner Terry Cline, Mental Health Commissioner Terri White and Howard Hendrick, director of the Department of Human Services, “urged state lawmakers to raise the alcohol tax to help address a 2012 fiscal year budget deficit that could be as large as $800 million.” This is the same nonsense going around in other states whereby lawmakers go after a convenient target, often with the help of anti-alcohol groups, that they know play well to constituents raised on temperance propaganda that demonizes alcohol as a sin. But essentially the tax hikes aimed at alcohol punish both the companies that make the products and the majority of consumers who drink them responsibly and in moderation, while doing nothing whatsoever to address the root causes of the tiny minority that do abuse alcohol and drugs. They’re not remotely fair.
I’m as sorry as the next citizen that states can’t meet their budgets, but alcohol didn’t cause the problem and shouldn’t be called upon to fix it, either. We should have learned our lesson when this was first tried, during the Civil War, but we keep looking to lifestyles that some people find morally objectionable and trying to legislate that morality to punish people for their choices that differ from the self-righteous. But the budget problems Oklahoma, and many other states, are facing were not caused by alcohol. The specious “charge for harm” notion that the Marin Institute, and other anti-alcohol groups, are pushing is a flawed idea that argues that everybody who makes and drinks alcohol has to pay for any problems caused by a tiny minority that abuses it. But it continues to gain traction because if you beat a drum long enough, and never hear another beat, people start to believe the music is good.
For example “Howard Hendrick, director of the [Oklahoma] Department of Human Services, also said the state should look at increasing the alcohol tax to help pay for treatment and medical costs associated with the use of the product.” But the “medical costs” are not “associated with the use of the product,” if anything, they’re associated with its misuse, a very different thing. The assumption is that everybody that drinks alcohol is a burden on the nation’s healthcare system, but that is not only false, but backwards. The vast majority of people who drink, and who do so responsibly and in moderation, are actually living a healthier lifestyle and are less of a burden on healthcare as a direct result of their good drinking behavior. Such people will most likely live longer than abstainers or binge drinkers.
Hendrick concludes with this tortured bit of logic:
“We’re not saying you can’t drink, we’re not going to prohibition we’re just asking you to pay your share of the cost,” Hendrick said. “We’re just trying to deter people from behaving irresponsibly with alcohol.”
What nonsense. If I, and in fact most people, drink responsibly then we’re not costing society one penny more than any other person. If anything, by our moderation, we’re burdening the healthcare system less and are in fact saving money for the system. We have no “share of the cost” to pay. Raising the cost of alcohol through higher taxes in order “to deter people from behaving irresponsibly” is incredibly insulting to the majority who do not behave irresponsibly. But such logic is pervasive and does nothing to actually stop alcohol abuse. Like any addiction, an addict will find a way to get his preferred addiction by any means necessary.
The only thing that such measures accomplish is that they damage the economy, and place a greater burden on poor people, since alcohol taxes are very regressive. The higher taxes punish primarily law-abiding responsible citizens by raising the price of alcohol even though they’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve such a punishment and in fact have done just the opposite. Lawmakers just can’t let any good deed go unpunished, especially when they’re trying to fix their own mistakes without acknowledging their own culpability or making themselves look bad. Better to blame everything on alcohol. And why not, demonizing alcohol has worked quite well for over a century. There’s no reason to let the facts get in the way of a good story now.