Excessive Sin Taxes on Alcohol in Britain does not create Higher Tax Revenue

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 23rd, 2012

Week in Review

Potheads want to decriminalize marijuana because they like getting high.  Especially high school kids and college kids.  Who aren’t known for making responsible decisions.  Binge drinking, drunk driving, smoking cigarettes, stealing prescription drugs from their parents, unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.  Things that just don’t happen much to married men and women raising a family in the suburbs.  Who actually grew up and became responsible adults.

But it’s just not the kids getting high.  There are a lot of ‘responsible’ adults who want to decriminalize marijuana, too.  Most of who spent their high school and college years stoned.  But they make a more responsible argument for the decriminalization of marijuana.  For it would end all of our budget woes if the government regulated and TAXED marijuana.  Equating getting high with responsible governing.  And if there is one thing we know whenever the government regulates and taxes something it encourages people to buy more of that something, flooding government treasuries with cash (see Alcohol duty fraud: Action needed, say off-licences by Emma Forde posted 12/22/2012 on BBC News Business).

UK tax authorities are not doing enough to tackle alcohol duty fraud, claims a leading off-licence chain.

Bargain Booze told the BBC that the number of stores telling HM Revenue and Customs that they face illegal competition is rising…

Alcohol duty fraud in the UK often involves exporting alcohol to the EU – untaxed – and then bringing it back into the UK with false paperwork.

This method exploits EU rules which state duty does not have to be paid on alcohol when it is being transferred between registered producers or wholesalers – it is only paid when it enters the marketplace.

But the BBC’s 5 live Investigates programme has learned that some lorries containing duty-unpaid alcohol meant for export never even leave the UK…

The illicit alcohol ends up in the hands of rogue wholesalers and retailers who then sell it on at prices which legitimate traders say are only possible if duty has been evaded…

Representatives from the alcohol retail industry claim the total cost to the Exchequer could be billions of pounds: “HMRC view the loss of revenue to the Exchequer at £1.2bn, but that excludes wine. Within the trade, the real cost to the Exchequer is viewed as something in excess of £4bn a year,” says Keith Webb…

The cash-and-carry owner, who did not want to be named due to fear of reprisal from criminal gangs, says it would have to pay around £19.35 for a box of six bottles of Echo Falls Chardonnay – of that, £11.40 would be duty.

The same amount and brand of lager would cost £16.56, with duty at £9.36 per case.

You just can’t add a 57-59% excise tax on something and expect the criminal element not to take advantage of that.  That’s just too juicy a profit to pass up.  And an easy and safe profit to make.  For they don’t have to traffic in an illegal substance.  They’re just doing the tax evasion part of illegal drug trafficking.  Making it a far less risky crime.  So why wouldn’t they exploit the government’s regulating and taxing of alcohol?  This is a gift handed to them on a silver platter.  And the same thing would happen with marijuana.

There is a problem with sin taxes.  The purpose of a sin tax is to dissuade people from participating in an unhealthy behavior.  Such as drinking and smoking.  So as they raise these taxes people buy less of these things.  Meeting the goal of a sin tax.  But if you use that same sin tax for revenue purposes you have a problem.  For the more you dissuade that behavior (i.e., the more you raise the tax rate) the less people will participate (i.e., the less tax revenue they collect).  The two (dissuading behavior and raising tax revenue) are mutually exclusive.  You can dissuade unhealthy behavior.  Or you can raise revenue.  But you can’t do both.  Which is why we have sin taxes and not outright prohibitions on these behaviors.

Governments are less interested in their stated purpose (dissuading unhealthy behavior) than they are in raising revenue.  For they are desperate to find new sources of revenue to pay for their irresponsible spending ways.  Which is why alcohol and tobacco products in the U.S. have very high excise taxes.  As well as laws setting minimum prices.  They say these are to protect the consumer from predatory pricing.  Something few consumers ever complain about.  Low prices are good.  The lower the better.  The only people hurt by predatory pricing are businesses that can’t compete at those lose prices.  And governments trying to collect confiscatory excise taxes on sinful behavior.  To avoid the problems they’re having in the UK with their alcohol duty fraud.

Governments don’t want criminals profiting off these high excise taxes by selling alcohol to consumers at lower prices.  They want the consumers to pay higher prices so they can give more of their income to the government.  To help pay for their irresponsible spending.  Which they never consider cutting to solve their budget problems.  They only consider new sources of revenue.   Or raising tax rates.  Which will happen with marijuana.  Opening the door for less risky profit taking for the criminal element the more they decriminalize it.  And the more they tax it.

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