Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Of Christmas Tree Taxes, FDR and Silly Political Discourse

In what is possibly the silliest political kerfuffle ever, today saw the blogosphere riled up about Obama’s new “Christmas Tree Tax.”  It was reported by a conservative blogger and amplified through Matt Drudge (Slate has a good, short recap here) that Obama’s Department of Agriculture had just announced plans to impose a fifteen-cent tax on the sale of fresh Christmas trees.  

On conservative blogs and, apparently, talk shows, this announcement was denounced as everything from a tax on Christians (because, you see, only Christians buy Christmas trees) to President Obama’s lame effort to stimulate the economy to an example of Obama fiddling while Rome burns (millions out of work, and the President wants to tax Christmas trees!). Oh the humanity!

But the reality is that this is the latest in a long, long line of programs created at industry request to raise funds for promotion, research or other marketing by the affected industries.  There are programs that do advertising (think Dancing Raisins and Milk Mustaches), that conduct research into controlling pests or making food safer, and that regulate quality and packing standards (so that, you know, when you go to the store to buy apples they have some uniformity in size, color, shape, etc.).  Some programs are federal and some are state, but they are all created because the growers or shippers of a given agricultural product want them created.

All of these programs stem from the same New Deal legislation put in place under Franklin Roosevelt.  For over seven decades those statutes have been used to justify the creation of these agricultural programs. They are done under government jurisdiction because that way you can get everyone to pay their fair share and avoid the ‘free rider’ problem.

Now, there’s plenty of room for argument or discussion about whether these types of programs are valuable, successful, effective or necessary in today’s world.  Growers have sued to get rid of them in some cases, and in others the programs have simply outlived their usefulness and been voted out of existence by the affected parties.

But to act like this proposed Christmas Tree program is some insidious plot driven by the President is silly beyond words and just goes to underscore how petty and substance-free our political discussions have become.

I’m not a big fan of the President and I'm an opponent of the Nanny State, but if the Christmas Tree farmers want to get together and tax themselves to pay for programs they think will help keep them in business, I say more power to them!

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