“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States…”
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants ability to tax to Congress in order to pay the bills. It also notes that taxes are to “provide for…the General Welfare of the United States…”
If you believe James Madison, this means that the government should collect and apply taxes equally across America – “general welfare” means “to the benefit of all”. If you believe Alexander Hamilton, it means that the government has the power to tax and spend on anything it chooses as long as it believes it will be “beneficial”. In the years subsequent to the Marbury v. Madison decision, the courts have sided with Hamilton.
Taxes collected to run the actual functions of government are one thing but what about “sin taxes” and taxes levied with the sole purpose of changing either economic or social behaviors?
Once you accept the Hamiltonian definition of “general welfare” as anything that has an effect on the human condition, there is nothing that cannot be construed to meet that definition – health (lifestyle behaviors, Obamacare), financial standing (i.e. subsidized loans, insurance, child care, etc.), status (“fair” housing laws) even the type of energy one consumes (fossil fuel taxes vs. “green energy” tax credits and guaranteed loans) – all are fair game for the federal government to get involved with…and they do.
Statists have long realized that taxes are not just to fund the operation of government, they use taxes to penalize behaviors pf which they disapprove and redistribute money to favored groups that are disadvantaged by those taxes. Case in point is the Democrat’s efforts to tax sugar – for our health, of course:
“This Act is intended to discourage excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by increasing the price of these products and by creating a dedicated revenue source for programs and research designed to reduce the human and economic costs of diabetes, obesity, dental caries, and other diet-related health conditions in priority populations,” the measure says.
DeLauro had earlier discussed the proposal while she was crafting it.
During a video presentation for The National Soda Summit in June DeLauro said, “It is long past time that we pass and support policies that work to our better health instead. With that in mind I’m working on legislation right now to tax sugar-sweetened drinks, like sodas, in a way that reflects the serious damage they are doing to our health.”
These “behavioral” taxes have much in common with the casinos in Vegas, there may be a few individual winners every once in a while but the house (the government) always wins. This is why we rarely see an outright ban on anything that our government determines is “harmful”. Their demonization of things like sugar and tobacco while promoting marijuana usage would seem contradictory but for one thing – they are all sources of tax revenue. Government has a habit of substituting out of favor vices with those that are in favor to keep the taxes coming in.
I don’t accept the Hamiltonian definition – if the Founders had meant for this to be the way we are governed, why even bother with the Bill of Rights – or the Constitution for that matter? If government can do anything based on the invocation of the “general welfare”, they why did the Founders enumerate certain powers to limit government?
This is why I am vehemently opposed to “sin taxes” and federal social welfare programs.
If you don’t want to experience the deleterious effects of sugar – stop eating and drinking things that are loaded with it – but also keep in mind that many things that the government has determined are “bad” for us have also been determined to be not as bad as once thought.
Madison counted on the average citizen to be able to decide for themselves and if they chose poorly, to live with the consequences. Hamilton didn’t really care as long as the power of the central government was increased and the industry of government profited from it.
The former is the position of the classical liberals in the GOP, the latter is the position of the establishment Republicans and the Democrat Party. One says we are free to choose, the other that we are incapable of correctly choosing for ourselves based on their definition of “correct” or that the corporate messaging is just too powerful for us to resist on our own.
One is freedom, the other is serfdom. You decide…while you still can.