Very recently, the Colorado state government decided to pass a law that forces Amazon to collect state sales tax. Amazon promptly closed their Associates program in Colorado rather than deal with this. The reason? It’s too freaking onerous for an online retailer with an innovative system like their Associates program to deal with every single government tax agency, from the IRS all the way down to municipal levels. There’s a good piece on the Denver Post that deals a great blow to the stupidity of the legislature on this measure: read it if you’re interested in the story further.
The point I wanted to add to this was regarding the issue of “fairness”. Harsanyi at the Post writes:
Once you get past the hyperbole of embarrassed legislators, the argument— and it has appeal — is that there is a lack of “fairness.” Why should out-of-state online stores have an advantage over the traditional stores in the state?
Well, Amazon came up with better technology, it offers better services and, thus far, it has had a far superior business model. That’s why. Let’s leave the slippery concept of “fairness” to toddlers and legislators.
I’ll add to that: how is sales tax “fair”? Seriously, now, how it is? I have some money I worked my butt off to earn and I want to go buy a CD to listen to on the weekend. It’s listed at $10, but I have to pay another buck (or whatever) to the state actually take possession of it. No one is doubting that, strictly speaking, they have the raw power to pass these laws (try not paying your taxes and see what happens), but is it “fair”, in the sense of lack of injustice? I don’t think so.
If you’re talking about “fair” as in everyone should be treated equally, then I’m sure those same legislators would be against any sort of progressive income tax, since it’s not “fair”. For me and not for thee, right?
Thankfully, Oregon doesn’t have a sales tax (yet), so this won’t be an issue for us any time really soon. I hope.
You know, I need to read some of Jerry Pournelle’s work. The guy has quite the resume, and his speculative fiction looks right up my alley. He also dabbles (OK, more than dabbles) in political discourse, and I respect his ideas quite a bit. Instapundit reminded me of this when he linked to something that Jerry had re-posted — from an early 1980’s preface to a sci-fi anthology. Let me get the “read the whole thing” out of the way — that’s obvious. I’d like to explain why this is so relevant today, and not just through the lens of the Cold War.
Two key paragraphs jump out at me as timeless, and at the same time, very timely. The first:
There are other pressures. Republics stand until the citizens begin to vote themselves largess from the public treasury. When the plunder begins, those plundered feel no loyalty to the nation—and the beneficiaries demand ever more, until few are left unplundered. Eventually everyone plunders everyone, the state serving as little more than an agency for collecting and dispensing largess. The economy falters. Inflation begins. Deficits mount. Something must be done. Strong measures are demanded, but nothing can be agreed to.
With the latest CBO projection on the deficit, well, it’s apt. Consider this: under the President’s plan, less and less people will pay any income taxes at all. I know what you’re thinking: a good thing, right? No, it’s not. People who don’t fund the Federal Government’s programs are much more likely to want those programs to grow larger. I mean, why not? It’s self-interest winning over group interest. The percentage of Americans paying zero income taxes (or actually getting a check!) has been steadily rising for a long time. The higher this number goes, the less stable our democracy is. And here’s the second part of Jerry’s post that really hits home:
There are other masters; masters who will do more than hold fast to the old ways; they will usher in a new era. The theorists proclaim it. Times have changed. Old institutions, devised in simpler times, are outmoded. Modern times demand modern, streamlined, efficient government- government that can sweep away the dead hand of the past, and bring forth the new dawn.
A new friend of the people comes forth. He will end the babble of political parties and factions and class war He will give meaning to life; will lead a crusade against poverty, squalor, ugliness; will transform the nation into a land beautiful and shining.
Sound like anyone you know? Not that our current President on par with any of the 20th century nasties, but cult of personality married to dreams of Utopia is always a dangerous thing. Always.