The tone deaf Christmas tree tax
Nov 9, 2011

The tone deaf Christmas tree tax

The US Department of Agriculture has announced it is imposing a fifteen cent tax on all live Christmas trees. The 2 million raised from this tax will be spent to create a board that promotes and advertises buying live Christmas trees. This is an almost unbelievably stupid move from the White House that seems to miss the tax narrative that is occurring.

Rightly or wrongly, the Republicans managed a significant shift over the last two years reframing the idea of taxes at all, in any form, as an absolute and immutable taboo. The Democrats have largely bought into the idea of massive tax deductions through the stimulus bill and other proposals but they make the populist exception to increase taxes on the rich, but not at all for the middle class. It is a generically anti-tax narrative that has rarely been as strong previously.

Despite this shifting narrative, despite the fact that the very idea of taxes is being held up as inherently evil and a violation of freedom, the administration has approved this most petty and silly of taxes. Even though in general it is entirely false, this will just add to the narrative that Obama is some big socialist who cannot but help tax anything and everything. One is challenged to determine if Scrouge or Big Brother is the more appropriate metaphor here.

The only reasonable explanation for the existence of this tax is the obvious one: the government was pressured into it by the lobbyists and, as they so often do, caved to the lobbyist demands. Like any other industry, if the Christmas tree industry wants to advertise its business they can pool their funds and do this, there is absolutely zero reason why the government should collect a tax for their purpose. It isn't even as if consumer spending on Christmas trees or on Christmas in general is anything that needs some form of economic boost. It is a minor tax and a minor industry, but it shows just how easy it is for industry lobbyists to push the government to do their bidding even when the political narrative is so antithetical to the administrations own interests.

It is quite possible that Obama himself has somewhere between almost zeros and actually zero involvement in this Department of Agriculture move. He might not even have been aware of it. However, the Department of Agriculture should surely be aware of the realpolitik of the tax narrative and should at least be cognizant of how this would play out.

I am reminded of the issue of the "iPod tax" raised in the last Canadian election with Harper accusing the other parties of wanting to create a perhaps $75 levy on iPods the same way blank CD's and the like face a levy. In that case it was largely a manipulation of their actual positions - the Liberals flatly refused to do this and the NDP never came anywhere close to $75. It demonstrates how easy it is for the idea of taxing some popular household consumer item to be spun incrediably poorly for whoever comes even remotely close to suggesting it. At the end of the day, it is simply bad politics to try and tax such things, especially when the very idea of taxes is being questioned.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The "iPod tax" was very Rovian. The Cons accused their enemies of doing what they intended to do themselves.

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