Did I Say That? Taxing sin
Back in what seems like the Paleolithic era, before warp drive and Instagram influencers, back when we still understood deep concepts like right and wrong, a very famous psychiatrist named Karl Menninger, who was sort of the Dr. Phil of his day, wrote a best-selling book titled, “Whatever Became of Sin?”
This was around the time that right and wrong were getting confused — mumbo-jumbo’d you might say. We emerging relativists came to believe that right and wrong were moving targets. I still remember sitting in metaphysics class, proclaiming the rallying cry of my generation, “Do your own thing!” (Plato, our professor told us, would disagree.)
Today, sin is making a comeback. I came to that conclusion after reading a flurry of headlines like, “Governor proposes new ‘sin taxes’” and “Tax on sugary drinks tops list of sin taxes.” Yes, sin is back in vogue.
I suspect that if Menninger were alive, he’d be ecstatic to discover that our politicians are focusing their attention on sin, as long as they can make a buck off it.
In one interview, the governor’s chief of staff said sin taxes “aren’t about generating revenue, but about changing behavior.” If Moses understood that principle 3,500 years ago and taxed the Israelites when they broke the Ten Commandments, this world would be a different place and Moses would have died a rich man. You see, our enlightened society has redefined the concept of sin ... in the spirit of capitalism.
In recent weeks, the General Assembly has been gnawing on the governor’s budget proposal, which included a 25-cent deposit on liquor and wine bottles, a tax on nip bottles (I guess so teenagers won’t toss them out car windows), a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, a tax on electronic cigarette liquid, and a 10-cent tax on single-use plastic bags.
The governor also proposed a study to “examine the feasibility of taxing junk food.” Folks, hold on to your hats, not to mention your Doritos! This groundbreaking research could make Connecticut a national leader by becoming the first state to tax Pringles, and that’s a legacy for us to be proud of. Who knows? A tax on junk food might stop the obesity epidemic in America, but who’s going to stop the tax epidemic?
There’s no denying we live in “Sin City,” where bad habits are classified as sins and what was once considered sin is classified as perfectly acceptable behavior. Before some duly elected legislator accuses me of a conflict of interest, let me say I don’t smoke cigarettes or vape or toss nips out the car window, although I occasionally toss them out the bedroom window. Plus, I have an obsession with those plastic grocery bags because they can be reused in inventive ways — and I don’t mean smoking them.
Even though I don’t guzzle sugary drinks, I confess to drinking large amounts of green tea, so I’m probably a likely target if the governor, in collaboration with the president, wants to go after China with hefty surtaxes on tea.
The good news is that at a time when sin has fallen into disfavor, our politicians are bringing it back in new and exciting ways. Indeed, they’re on the verge of reinventing the 10 Commandments with their contemporary thinking:
1. I am your Governor, you shall not have strange governors before me.
2. Do not take the name of your Governor in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy Tax Day.
4. Honor thy General Assembly.
5. Thou shalt not smoke cigarettes (but weed is OK).
6. Thou shalt not drink Big Gulp.
7. Thou shalt not vape.
8. Thou shalt not bear false witness on thy tax return.
9. Thou shalt not covet New Hampshire’s tax structure.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s residence in Naples, Florida.
Hey, that works for me, and I’m sure if Karl Menninger were around, he’d be enthusiastic about all these changes, and instead of asking, “Whatever became of sin?” he’d be asking, “Whatever became of tax breaks?”
Joe Pisani can be reached at email@example.com.