Monday, April 11, 2011

Don’t Touch Me There!

The mayor of Omaha, Nebraska recently proposed a 10-cent federal tax per roll of toilet paper to pay for expensive city sewer projects. It may seem like an insignificant amount, but when you do the math it is not a small tax. At 10-cents a roll, the tax rate would be 10-40% depending on the brand. I really, really, wish I was making this up, but I’m not.

I wrote about the economics of toilet paper last June (Potty Economics) and thought this would be my last pass on the subject, but I was wrong. What I will assure you is that I will not reuse any of the 26 tasteless puns that appeared in that post. Because some things, like today’s subject, should never be reused.

There is some logic to this idea. It would be a type of “usage tax”. People using toilet paper use the sewer system. People who use more toilet paper theoretically stress the system more. Therefore the more paper you use, the more tax you pay. There are still fairness issues here. Body sizes, hygiene practices and frequency issues vary greatly from person to person. In addition a federal tax would result in customers in small cities and rural areas help pay for big city sewer projects, which appears to be the real motivation for the proposal. Why should someone on a Wyoming ranch be taxed on their toilet paper to pay for Chicago’s sewer repair? (Maybe a cowboy poet could write a prose about it!)

But way beyond that, there is just something very uncomfortable and disgusting about the government touching a most sensitive area. It’s bad enough when the government’s hand is in your pocket, but you really don’t want it sticking it up there. And you know that once the government turns on a revenue stream, it finds it almost impossible to turn it off. Once they find that a toilet paper tax is “found money”, they would enthusiastically go in there with both hands up to the wrist. Talk about your government intrusion!

Because Americans hate taxes (this is one of the things that make us Americans) some people would try to avoid paying the toilet paper tax. I previously wrote that toilet paper is a product with few substitutes. However once you introduce a financial incentive (the tax avoidance) and a non-financial incentive (screw the government), then the development of substitute products becomes more viable.

These products would undoubtedly be advertised on late-night television programs:

“Take a nasty poo? Take care of it with the Personal Sham-Wow. Just Sham-Wow it and forgetaboutit!”

Or --- “Try the new Super Spritzer from Ronco. Just attach it to your sink and let the Super Spritzer give you that spring-fresh feeling.”

A toilet paper tax would also create a black-market for the product – or more appropriately a “brown-market”. Some guy named Cheech would be selling tax-free toilet paper smuggled in from Mexico out of the back of his ’92 van.

“Hey dude, I got some really good two-ply, man. Really soft, good for your buns, man. No sh** man and no sh** leftover either. Got a shipment of quilted coming in on Tuesday if you can wait, man.”

Another reaction to the toilet paper tax is that people might choose to use less. For credibility the mayor pointed out that the toilet paper tax was first proposed (and failed) in Oregon in 2009. I’m guessing that the purpose of that tax was to reduce usage since that was the year of the Greenpeace campaign that claimed the use of plush toilet paper was destroying the environment. If you truly believe the most pressing world problem is toilet paper overuse, then there is no hope for you. You may as well go live on a hippie commune and smoke dope until your brain fizzles out, which shouldn’t take very long.

All I know is that if I reduce my toilet paper usage, it is going to be very damaging to the environment between my cheeks. It is not going to be good for the environment of people sitting by me in long business meetings either.

The toilet paper tax is one of the worst ideas in a long time. It is indicative of a government with an unquenchable thirst for tax money. So thirsty that it ignores basic American history. Because you see, in a meeting 244 years ago somebody said, “I have a most advantageous idea, let us tax their tea.”

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

(original article on toliet paper tax)

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