Taxes Only Hurt the Rich?

Let’s be clear here: Some taxes are only going to hit the wealthiest among us. Things like estate taxes and investment taxes pretty much only do hit the rich, because only the rich have these things. We’re not talking the “1%” here either. We’re talking middle-class up, who all, to the lower-class, would seem pretty rich, with their home ownership and disposable income to invest. Other taxes, whatever form they may take, can actually hit the poorest majority of our population much harder. California just approved a few new taxes that unfairly target poor working-class Californians, and I’d like to go over those, as well as point out how insane these taxes are, since they’re ostensibly created as behavioral adjustments, rather than accounting for externalities.

So, first off, we have the “bag tax”. This is also known as the “bag ban” as it does both. Regular old flimsy plastic bags are now illegal to use as a retailer in California. Paper bags now require a $0.10 tax. The idea of this is to encourage consumers to use more reusable, cloth bags. Unfortunately, many of those reusable cloth bags are made from non-biodegradable polyester fibers, and if they break, guess where they go? You guessed it, right into the landfill along with the deteriorating, quickly disintegrating old plastic bags. That’s not the issue I’m talking about right now though. The issue is that these neat cloth bags can cost anywhere from $0.50 a piece to easily over $5. Guess who doesn’t usually have $20 to spare in the grocery store? No, not Mr. Pennybags. It’s the poor. The people who already have a hard time affording groceries are the ones who suffer most from this tax, since it’s a truly flat tax.

Let’s compare a family of four earning a gross income of ~$19,200 a year with a single wage-earner to a family of four earning $57,600 a year, the equivalent of $30 an hour. Never mind that the higher-earning family will take home a smaller percentage of their total gross than the lower-earning one, we’re looking at gross, which is what everyone who wants higher taxes looks at too. Say the family with a $19,200 income wants to buy bags but always forgets them, as we all do. Every damned time, I swear. Let’s say they spend around a hundred bucks in a trip to the grocery store, every week. They get a specific volume of foodstuff, let’s say enough to fill 4 bags, one for each family member. Fair enough, a week of food in 4 bags is pretty reasonable for an “average” family. If they want to use paper bags, that’s $0.40 a week, or $1.60 a month. That comes out to only $19.20 a year. Not too bad, right? Well, that’s $19.20 they could have used for a little more food over the year. Maybe some higher-quality, healthier food, but because they had to add the forty cents, maybe they skimped on the romaine and got iceberg instead. Not such a big health impact, but an impact nonetheless. But what if they actually bought into the reusable bag lie, buying bags at, the best price I could find for useful ones, $0.88 a piece? Now we’re talking some real money. That’s a good $168.96 a year if they keep forgetting bags. Again, this isn’t implausible at all. At $0.88 a piece, it doesn’t seem that bad, but multiplying it, that’s a damn good amount of money.  Specifically, that’s 16 hours of gross pay right there, or two full days’ worth of pay, pre-tax, just for bags.

What about our $30 an hour equivalent family? Well, that’s a little over half a day for them. The primary wage-earner gets that just after lunch. Basically, it takes more effort when you’re poor to afford a flat monetary tax than it does a simple percentage tax. And don’t kid yourself, being forced to buy a product is a tax one way or another. It is very much equivalent to being charged $700 in taxes or pay $1200+ in insurance premiums. Sure, you get more out of paying more, but only if you actually use it. This is a flat tax that only hurts the poor, while the rich get to feel smug about “saving the planet”. Disposable diapers take up a LOT more landfill space than plastic bags, but nobody’s trying to ban those.

Next up, we have the new gas tax in California, pushed in by our wonderful governor, head of the California Uber Alles movement, Jerry Brown.  It’s $0.19 a gallon. That’s, again, a true flat tax. Not a flat percentage, but a flat monetary amount. Thus, the more you earn, the less it harms you. Let’s say you can afford a Prius, which starts with an MSRP of over $23,000. Not too bad. Lower-middle class can pull that off. You know who can’t? FUCKING POOR PEOPLE. Let’s say you have a job, again, minimum wage, that you have to drive 20 miles for. You get minimum wage for this job. Again, I’m going with gross even though it’s completely inadequate as comparison since so much of this will disappear through state and federal income taxes. So, you’ve got a really neat car. It gets, let’s say 28 miles to the gallon. With a 20 mile commute, you’re going 800 miles in a month. Unfortunately, because you’re poor, you can’t really afford to move to the suburbs near work, so you have to stick with one of the more rural areas outside of work. Moving isn’t an option. This is reality for a LOT of poorer Californians. So your pretty-decent used car gets about 28mpg, and I’m being incredibly fair here. Oddly enough, this works out pretty evenly, requiring about 28 gallons. 28 x 0.19=$5.32 a month. That’s $63.84 a year, just in new taxes for the poor. Meanwhile, the guy in the Prius, cheating the goddamn system by getting better mileage in the city, still manages to average out around 55mpg if they, for some reason, have to commute. 14.6 gallons a month. 14.6 x 0.19=2.77 extra a month, or $33.29 a year. Roughly half. And you’re earning a crapload more per paycheck at this point. Higher taxes = the richer people winning again. We’re not even going to talk about people who earn six figures, because that amount is barely worth picking up off the ground to them.

Finally, we have the cigarette tax. I saved this for last because it’s easily the most controversial. Some say it’s great because it encourages people to quit smoking and funds anti-smoking campaigns and stop-smoking programs. Let me bring you into the secret world of healthcare: No, it doesn’t. The taxes gathered through this bill, at $2.00 a pack or $20.00 a carton, mostly go to healthcare companies like hospitals and, yes, even insurance companies. You heard me. The people denying your CPAP machine are getting money because you smoke. And no, the bottom-rung folks aren’t getting a dime of this. I check with myself; nope, no raise.

This is the most inane tax of them all, simply due to demographics. The few wealthier people who still smoke are only marginally hit by this tax hike. They’re actually the most likely to quit due to it, though. This is because, statistically, wealthier people stay wealthier people because they don’t spend money they don’t have to. Poorer people are less likely to enroll in stop-smoking programs, simply due to the costs involved, and typically don’t have the means to shop around for the cigarettes they’re addicted to. Poorer people also tend to work high-stress, physical labor jobs, and have further stresses due to financial difficulties. Rich people don’t smoke. Middle-class people don’t smoke. Poor people smoke. Statistically, of course. I’m not quite middle-class, but I’m not on the poverty line either. I smoke. I found a way around this system, though. Indian reservations do not have to abide by state laws, and as such, can sell tobacco products with zero taxation. It’s not the top-end tobacco, mind you, but $29 a carton is a hell of a lot better than $80 a carton or more. How do I do this? I travel about 20 miles every month or so and pick up several cartons of cigarettes because I have that kind of budgeting. Dropping $300 on two and half months’ worth of cigarettes isn’t so bad, and the gas to get there doesn’t hurt me so much because I get about 35mpg highway, so it more than pays for itself for an addict like me. You’re saving $20 per carton driving that distance, so at the least I have to spend less than $20 a week in gas to get there and back. And I do, by a long shot.

See, this is the unfortunate resolution of these taxes: People who aren’t rich will take extra time out of their lives to escape the taxes, while people who are rich don’t generally give a crap. There’s something more nefarious about this law that wasn’t heavily-discussed during the debates over it, too: It amends the California constitution. While people were busy rallying against cigarettes, e-cigs, smokeless tobacco, and various other nicotine products, they failed to notice that California now no longer has to supply a percentage of new taxes to education. That’s correct, this new law allows funds to allocate to whatever the new laws want to, and in the case of this tax, that’s to corporations that do not have your interests in mind.

But, ultimately, who is to blame for these taxes? Is it all Governor Brown? No. He was only really responsible for the ridiculous gas tax. The rest are on the California citizens, and only the left-leaning ones, which are, unfortunately, the majority. These are the same people who voted in a bullet train between Sacramento and San Diego that will be completed sometime between now and the heat-death of the universe. These are the same people who voted to make sure chickens had enough dancing room while being transported for slaughter, while at the same time largely ignoring the fact that gay people might not be able to get married. Not that I think they should, because marriage is idiotic in the first place, but if they want to ruin their lives, I think that’s a more important freedom than your nuggets being comfortable while they’re shipped off to be ground into paste.

California isn’t alone by any means in this “tax and don’t even bother spending” economy. It’s just that my state is the most ludicrous about it. Taxes may not seem too much at first glance, but to reiterate my previous calculations, let’s figure out what a carton-a-day smoker will spend extra in taxes in the next year. $20 a carton, which is a weekly buy for many smokers, is going to come out to $80 a month. This equates to $960 a year. This isn’t the cost of the product. This is the taxes on that product. That’s enough for a shitty HSA-eligible insurance plan, and that money is going to the very people you would normally pay to tell you that you’re smoking too much.

These taxes are, once again, simply there to control people. They’re not even redistribution of wealth. They’re simply punishing the poor. What’s my solution? Drop the ridiculous taxes. People who care about the environment will buy cloth bags, while the rest of us will sigh and silently scream while we pay ten cents a paper bag. Either that or just stuff everything into the trunk without bags, because that’s a lot easier. People aren’t going to drive less for work because they have to pay nearly an additional pair of dimes per gallon. Rich people won’t care, and poor people will just take fewer vacations because, why bother?

Stop these taxes before the poor die. This isn’t the “flat tax” that many economists talk about. That’s a percentage, and I am completely on board with that. I like the idea of a high consumption tax taking the place of our already-ridiculous income tax brackets. Exclude staple food and necessary durable goods, and you’ve got a tax that proportionally hits rich people harder and poor people much less. A family that buys bread, milk, eggs, flour, butter, and salt will pay zero taxes, while the family that buys imported lobster gets nailed.  The people who buy a $10,000 car get a $2,000 hit, while the people who buy a $60,000 car get nailed with a $12,000 tax bill. Neither one is put out more by this tax than the other. $2,000 stings, but that’s about $200 a month with a 5-year lease, while the now $72,000 car costs $1,200 a month. This equally hurts for both groups, and encourages less spending on needless upgrades.

Let’s stop with the bullshit taxes and point out that they aren’t hurting the rich at all, nor are they helping the poor. They merely serve to increase the power of the government. Bigger governments aren’t known for their subtlety. They take away freedoms, punish you for being poor, and some of them even kill tens to hundreds of millions of people. Do you want to be like Stalin? Okay, maybe you do if you’re left-leaning, but here comes the Godwin: Do you want to be like Hitler? That’s where these increased taxes and greater central government power lead.

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