South Carolina State Senator Seeks Tax on Pornography to Fight Sex Offenders

April 3, 2008

Just when you thought policymakers (and some in the voting public) could not get any dumber when it comes to tax policy, you see this article and the quotes from citizens discussing a proposed tax on pornography in South Carolina. Here’s what the bill’s sponsor, Republican State Senator Mike Fair, had to say in support of his measure: “Just as we’re trying to do with cigarettes, we have tried to do and continue to try to do with alcohol, is lets the users of those products pay for some of the consequences that come from that.”

The problem is that Fair’s quote is totally wrong in several ways. First, with regard to cigarettes, the tax in almost every jurisdiction (when the federal tax is included) exceeds the negative external costs that the smokers are actually putting on the rest of society. Second, Fair asserts, with no proof, that pornography imposes a negative externality on society in the form of increased child molestation. That’s an empirical question, and unless proven, it’s despicable to link anything, even adult-content magazines, to something as horrible as child molestation for the purpose of promoting a tax hike.

Furthermore, given that there is a fairly cheap substitute for the “immoral material” that is in Playboy and Hustler in the form of internet pornography, this tax may not raise as much money as Fair expects. That is, unless people are purchasing the magazine for the reading material; in that case, Fair’s assertion of a link between those buying the magazine and sexual predators would be even more ridiculous.

And if Fair’s link between pornographic magazines and sexual predators is valid (as it must be if this is sound tax policy), then I guess if pornography were banned, sexual predators would cease to exists. That’s exactly what Fair is implying in this quote.

But as stupid as Fair’s comment was, the article quotes one ordinary citizen who obviously knows nothing about tax policy and, for some reason, was chosen by a reporter who didn’t dig deep enough on the issue. Her quote: “I agree with it. I agree with it because we need all the help we can get to keep them away from our kids. It’s better than taxpayers paying out of their pockets for it.”

You can’t make this stuff up, folks. This is priceless material. But it gets better:

“It’s everybody’s choice, if they want to look at that, purchase that then yes tax it and let’s protect the kids.”

Oh, won’t somebody please think of the children!!!! This final statement shows how ignorant people are on this issue as this baseless argument is used all the time by both liberals and conservatives. The truth is that no tax is optional. The tax is compulsory given that some other activity has taken place. The activity is a choice. When you choose to go to McDonald’s and buy the Big Mac for $2, you don’t choose whether or not to pay the 5 percent sales tax on the burger. The tax is compulsory given the other choice you made. Similarly, when you choose to go to work today, you don’t choose whether or not to pay income and payroll taxes to the IRS. The tax is not a choice. Whether you work or not is the choice, and while taxes can influence that choice, you can’t legally work and not pay the taxes.

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