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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Toll roads


I have to say, I love the trend towards targeted taxation. No one (except for crazy people) LIKES taxes, of course, since everyone would prefer to hoard their hard-earned (or stolen) dollars for their own nefarious purposes. It’s a common belief that governments waste 9 out of ever 10 dollars they grab, and spend the last buck on something you don’t like. Nevertheless, a targeted tax serves a higher purpose. Even if the money gained were stacked in a huge pile and burned, something else would be gained.
By targeted taxes, I’m referring to the host of sneaky little (and not so little) charges that we all pay whenever we use something of which the government doesn’t approve. Gas for your car, cigarettes for your kids, booze so you can get out of bed in the morning: all heavily taxed. Maybe that money does nothing useful, but the theory is that taxing something is a deterrent to its use. In theory, we have fewer smokers, drinkers, and drivers because we tax the berries out of those items.
It’s a clever way for a government to allow freedom while still punishing those who choose unwisely. Obviously smoking is bad for you. Alcohol is a toxin. Yes, we can tolerate it in small and even moderate doses, but it can kill you. Driving helps contribute to planetary pollution, which is bad, since this is currently our only house. (To quote the Tick: “That’s where I keep all my stuff!”) The government operates VLTs and casinos, snatching huge profits while at the same time running ads to say “Hey, ease up, idiots—you’re gambling too much!” (Not that anyone appears to listen.) If it’s bad for you, the government supplies it, but makes you pay through the nose for the privilege. It’s a commentary on our own stubbornness or stupidity that we haven’t stopped doing all this stuff yet.
This morning I saw an article on road tolls, which is what prompted this post. “Canada lags in use of road tolls,” was the headline. My first thought was “Yeah, that’s a shame. It’s like saying we need to catch up on gun-related crime. Some of the other G8 countries are way ahead of us.” After reading it, though, it made sense. Road tolls are a deliberate tool used to reduce the use of said road. This helps to control the flow of traffic, eases smog in certain areas, and reduce the need to constantly repair and expand existing roadways. They have been used with great effect in other countries. For instance, during peak hours, you have to pay 10 pounds to drive through London’s core. That’s reduced through-traffic by about 70 000 cars. Maybe those same cars are just dispersing to other roadways, but it has to create a more pleasant downtown London than experienced previously.
Why stop at roads, though? Why not a “cholesterol tax” on french fries? Or a “stink tax” on body sprays? (I’d be a huge fan of that one. You don’t need to bath in the stuff, people.) A “John tax” for those who dally with sex workers. “Flatulence tax” on cans of beans. My role-playing games would probably be subject to some sort of “nerd tax.” I’m sure a committee dedicated to finding vices and charging taxes on them could have a kilometre-long list in days. Drugs are almost certain to be on it, both legal and illegal.
We would be able to finally embrace the logical end to the targeted tax process. Let’s get drugs legalized. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, all that crap. It isn’t as though they aren’t available on the street as it is. This way we could regulate it to make the products safer (did you know most drug overdoses are due to the toxic effects of the substances used to CUT the actual drug?). We’d generate revenue in the form of taxes and ease the burden on overworked narcotics cops. It would also probably spell an end to a large segment of organized crime, what with their most profitable products available next to packs of DuMaurier. The tax money we get would easily pay for the treatment facilities, whereas right now the drug users aren’t shouldering their share of the burden.
It would be a country where any vice is allowed, so long as you’re willing to pax the tax-man. A brave new world and, forgive the pun, but tolls are just the first stop on the road to reach it.

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