In a recent essay in the LA Times – the paper now heralded as “America’s Skinniest Newspaper!” – UC Irvine business professor Peter Navarro successfully argues that a proposal by Governor Scwarzenegger to add a tax to admission tickets at amusement parks such as Disneyland would lower net park admissions and impact local economies in a wide-ranging way such that the meager gains realized by the so-called “fun tax” would never offset by the damage inflicted.
Politicians favor so-called “sin taxes” on such things as cigarettes and alcohol in hard times because the appetite for these items stays about the same or, perhaps sadly, increases during stressful economic periods. And it’s all supposed to be okay because of what’s known about the deleterious health impacts of such “sin”: The government helps us then helps itself to tax revenue at the same time. Or so the thinking goes.
But before even considering Navarro’s points on “fun tax” impacts, I was disturbed by the notion that in a tough economy the first thing you’d do is club parents over the head at the gates of Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm. Obviously, somewhere, there’s a perception that family fun is optional and that it ranks in the same general category of taxable activity as smoking and drinking, a lthough a hefty tax on “Smoking Alcoholics Day” at Disneyland might bring about a wave of interventions that would restore health and happiness in thousands of homes. “Dad, it’s going to cost you ten bucks more to smoke and get hammered in the Spinning Teacups this year. Don’t you think it’s time we had that talk…?”
It’s not easy for governments to put their fingers on exactly what constitutes “discretionary” spending and what defines a taxable good or activity. But maybe we can agree it should be something other than a child’s access to Space Mountain. In the spirit of making life in these tight times fairer, I submit some alternative “fun” taxes to Governor Schwarzenegger that might produce revenue in ways other than mugging families at the amusement parks.
The “Saw” Tax
After something like three decades of low-rent “horror” movies where, for the most part, attractive young women were stabbed with or fell upon various pointed objects (Hello, Dr. Freud? What do you think about this title: “Phallic Harpoon of Death”…?), Hollywood upgraded and began producing hit films where young people were now torn apart or sawed off their own limbs. Much better. So if that’s something you want to see in sequel after sequel, why not tax an extra few bucks on to admissions to “Saw”-type human butchery movies? I “get” horror and all the windy theories behind its success at the box office; just make the chumps pay more for cinematic torture porn and maybe we’ll have a few more dollars for schools, so kids can eviscerate a frog in biology class.
The Cars Above 40K Tax
What is delivered, exactly, by an automobile that costs more than forty thousand dollars? Identity? Resolution of issues with your father? Southern Californians are buying Prius hybrids with the kind of gusto they display for Lakers tickets. So who still needs to drive a car listing at over 40K? I know my own appetite for such an extravagance is tempered by the knowledge that my old man bought the home I was raised in on the GI Bill for $21,000. I have never found a rationale allowing me to drive the equivalent of two houses around town. Governor, tax those troubled souls and let’s get some soft leather seats and Bose concert hall speakers in our schoolrooms.
The “Apps” Test Tax
Personal electronics may still show some strength in sales this Christmas, regardless of dire holiday retail predictions. We have these things in our pockets and we claim that they help us, but… do they? Roadside checkpoints would pull device users over whereupon enforcement officers would ask, “Are you carrying an iPhone or similar device with applications you never use in any practical way?” User would immediately become defensive about such things as mobile Internet. The officers would demand to see an application of said feature. If the user demonstrated, say, that his girlfriend was choking and he needed access to Heimlich maneuver instructions online, the user passes through untaxed. If, however, he goes to that site with the puppies on live camera… ka-ching! And double tax for tiny porn on tiny screens.
The “Come On!” Tax
This one would be the most difficult to administrate. Basically, there should be a state tax proportionate to the degree that any purchase makes a reasonable observer go, “Come on!” So, for example, someone buying a new Humvee right now looks to get hit pretty hard. But should the tax be greater for, say, teenage girls getting breast implants from their mother’s plastic surgeon? Tough call. Years ago, intense marketing built on perceptions of status caused women to believe that they needed the pelts of dead animals around their shoulders. Literature and films from those times abound with stories of men going to lengths, often beyond their means, to drape their “gal” in fur. It took quite a few activists and some small mammals shouting “Come on!” to change our minds about that. Maybe we’ll be shouting some more as this economy continues to bear down on us.