I’m bumping this old 4th-of-July post because of its fundamental relevancy to the Eric Garner case. Aside from the immediate questions of ascertaining blame for a man’s death, it’s worth asking why this micro-industry of selling cigarettes even exists, and the appropriateness of the regulatory structures that are backed up by police enforcement.
I don’t have a simple answer or a simple advocacy to set things right. But a man was killed as part of the process of protecting society from the scourge of tobacco, and this makes one wonder if our bureaucratic infrastructure is out of touch with reality. In a heavily regulated society, we are all in violation of some rule or other, and we all know this and all feel at risk. Human beings deserve a world in which authoritarian control is reserved for situations in which it is vitally necessary. Does the control of a cigarette merit such a degree of force? When authority overreaches, we’re all at risk of becoming Eric Garners.
For those that don’t realize this, New York State and City cigarette taxes push the price of a pack to the $10 to $14 range (!). (See article: “How New York City’s Steep Cigarette Taxes Create Crime and Grow Big Government”.) Thus the temptation to drive to another jurisdiction and load up with cheap cigarettes is a creation of the state.
Here in California, we’ve got Rob Reiner’s cig tax that funds anti-smoking campaigns. Which means, as a practical matter, that we tax the poorer segment of society (with disproportionately more smokers) and give the money to Reiner and his pals, so they can lecture us some more. Sure, tax the poor and pay off the rich and price legitimate vendors out of business and create a new class of criminals, and then pat yourself on the back for all the good you’re doing for those poor dumb slobs; isn’t liberalism grand?
A post by Maynard
The Fourth of July fills my head with subversive notions. Like freedom from unnecessary government meddling and micromanagement. Not to mention taxes.
In the United States of Maynard, two books that would be taught in high school are humorist P.J. O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores and Holidays in Hell. The first book explains how the American government really works. The second explains how the world really works. Adults eventually learn, in consequence of painful mistakes, that reality is different from our silly theories.
A passage from “Parliament of Whores” leaps to mind. From the chapter, “Would You Kill Your Mother to Pave I-95?”:
All tax revenue is the result of holding a gun to somebody’s head. Not paying taxes is against the law. If you don’t pay your taxes, you’ll be fined. If you don’t pay the fine, you’ll be jailed. If you try to escape from jail, you’ll be shot. Thus, I — in my role as citizen and voter — am going to shoot you — in your role as taxpayer and ripe suck — if you don’t pay your share of the national tab…
Are you with him so far? O’Rourke has established a solid foundation.
…Therefore, every time the government spends money on anything, you have to ask yourself, “Would I kill my kindly, gray-haired mother for this?” In the case of defense spending, the argument is simple: “Come on, Ma, everybody’s in this together. If those Canadian hordes come down over the border, we’ll all be dead meat. Pony up.” In the case of helping cripples, orphans and blind people, the argument is almost as persuasive: “Mother, I know you don’t know these people from Adam, but we’ve got five thousand years of Judeo-Christian-Muslim-Buddhist-Hindu-Confucian-animist-jungle-God morality going here. Fork over the dough.” But day care doesn’t fly: “You’re paying for the next-door neighbor’s baby-sitter, or it’s curtains for you, Mom.”
The same logic applies to every bit of silly intrusion that our legislators impose upon us. I’m thinking of my pet-peeve-of-the-moment, the seatbelt and cell phone laws. Are they really important enough to kill me over? However benign and enlightened such policies may seem, we must never forget that all government authority ultimately boils down to a gun pointed at our heads. Ultima ratio regum.
Government is a necessary evil. Imperfect government is vastly better than anarchy. But, as our über-liberal ex-Governor Moonbeam once famously exclaimed, “Sometimes, less is more.” I wish he’d applied his fatuous wisdom to himself.
Happy Independence Day. I hope you’ve all got lots of illegal fireworks.
Update: See WaPost editorial, 12/5/14: “Don’t support laws you are not willing to kill to enforce”.