I know, it might sound weird coming from someone who really doesn’t like taxes, especially taxes that are passed-off as “well-intentioned”. The British government is calling for a raise in taxes on motorists to cut carbon emissions and I personally support the move.

Taxes on gasoline are an economically justified and effective way of correcting a harmful externality (CO2 emissions) by accounting for the social cost of gasoline consumption. A gasoline tax, for this purpose – and not for the purpose of raising revenues – is an example of a Pigouvian tax.

A Pigouvian tax – named after Arthur Pigou and championed most recently and enthusiastically by Greg Mankiw – is a tax that corrects externalities by making it more costly to participate in the said action. Pigouvian taxes are meant to be revenue neutral by being enacted side-by-side with an equivalent tax cut in another area.

Whether this proposal by the British government is a Pigouvian tax or just an outright tax increase remains to be seen. As long as it is Pigouvian, I throw my hesitant support behind it.

Advertisements

If there’s anything that I ask of people when in political discourse, it’s consistency. Don’t say you are in support of freedom of speech, and then choose to apply it only when the speech is in agreement with your beliefs. Don’t be against corporate bailouts, and then support the bailout of your favorite car company just because you think it’s a swell company. Etc., etc., etc.

However, there are times where this philosophical consistency is greatly at odds with our own self-interest, as hypocritical as it may be. For example, when Jerry Reinsdorf threatened to move the Chicago White Sox to Tampa Bay in the early 1990’s unless Chicago built a new stadium, I have to say honestly that I’d support such a move. The fact that taxpayer dollars go to build these ridiculous stadiums when professional teams can easily afford them anyways is absurd. I acknowledge the hypocrisy on my part.

The Beatles Rooftop Concert in 1969. Their last public appearance playing music together. It must have been incredible to be there. I know the members of the Beatles had a great time performing (or so I see in the videos). But let’s remember what’s going on here. There are thousands of people who are working innocently around the neighborhood and disturbed by the noise. This noise externality shouldn’t be allowed to go on, should it? Obviously, if Creed or Matchbox 20 or some other crappy band was playing, I would have no hesitations shutting them down. Here’s where the dilemma is. We need to have consistency, otherwise the tyranny of the majority says what’s alright and there’s no rule of law.

Would you have shut down the rooftop concert and, if not, would you allow Creed?

This is what it should be like in some restaurants

This is what it should be like in some restaurants

I really despise cigarette smoke. I apologize to those who engage in such activities. However, banning smoking in private establishments is a completely different story, in my opinion. The following is a second op-ed I wrote for the Koch Summer Fellowship Program. Since I adhered to a word limit, I know there are some things I didn’t elaborate on as much as I would have liked to or needed to. However, I think you should get the main idea:

Recent smoking bans in restaurants and bars across the country have, for the most part, had the good intention of protecting people from the harmful effects of second hand smoke. However, they are misguided and violate fundamental rights of smokers and the owners of the restaurants that choose to allow smoking.

The fundamental argument against smoking bans is their violation of property rights. No one is forcing anyone to go into a private establishment. There is no inherent right about being able to use the coercive power of the law to force restaurant owners to cater to one’s preferences. If you don’t like restaurants that allow smoking, don’t go to them. There’s a reason many restaurants voluntarily disallowed smoking from their establishments: non-smokers don’t like it. But what about the smokers? Don’t they have a right to smoke inside, as long as it is permitted by the person who owns that establishment? Smoking bans, interestingly enough, have the unintended consequence of making smokers pollute the air where common citizens can’t avoid the smoke: public sidewalks.

Proponents of smoking bans often use imperfect information as justification. Indeed, customers can’t always tell whether a restaurant permits smoking or not before they park their car and restaurants rarely have signs on the outside that convey their smoking policy. However, this imperfect information can apply to essentially any other characteristic of a restaurant. Loud music often results in hearing loss, but should we ban live music or loud stereos for people who fear hearing loss and don’t know a restaurant’s noise policy before they go inside? Should all restaurants be mandated to have vegetarian/vegan dishes? I certainly don’t think so. Places can have loud or quiet music, just like they can have a purely meat menu or have vegetarian options (or no meat at all).

Secondhand smoke has negative effects on health. Since second-hand smoke is by definition not something that is personally being undertaken, the recipients must have their rights to clean air protected. However, the use of government to enforce your right to clean air stops when you voluntarily enter a restaurant. No one made you go there. Walking into an establishment and demanding the owners meet your needs violates the rights of both the owner of the establishment as well as the other patrons, who could disagree with your preferences. In a sense, it’s like going into a strip club and claiming your right to decency is being violated. Or going into a pet store and crying foul about your cat allergies.

Drunk people also give out negative externalities. Not only do drunk people impose a risk on everyone on the road when they get behind the wheel, but they are often loud, destructive, and creepy both in and out of the bar. One can only imagine the outcry if there was a proposal to outlaw drinking in public places. Why? Because alcohol consumption is popular compared to cigarette smoking. Once very common in society, cigarette smoking is now done only by a small minority. The presence of smoking bans without major pushes for bans of bars somewhat shows the power that the tyranny of the majority can have.

I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. The cost, smell, and health effects of cigarette smoking are all a big turnoff for me. But using the government to push my personal preferences on others in a private establishment is never justified.