Prohibition or Money Grab?

Hey, we are talking California here, so my guess is… both!
Via LAist, I read of a ballot initiative calling for a new tax hike on all alcoholic beverages sold in the state. Now at first blush this seems to be a reasonable subject of discussion. California’s finances make a train wreck look like a precision drill team. The state’s bonds are now considered to be the same quality as Iraq’s. Now, I’ll try to avoid getting too heavy here into how to fix the bankruptcy, but clearly, some combination of increased revenues and/or reduced spending will have to happen. I will note that the state is already hemorrhaging taxpayers, so tax increases may not really be such a good idea. Beyond that, California, heal thy self!
But this brings me back to the Alcohol-Related Harm and Damage Services Act of 2010 (pdf). This little piece of political performance art calls for a modest increase in the price of all booze sold in the state. Seems reasonable, at least if you buy into the whole raising taxes will help school of “thought”.
But did I say modest?
Here’s modest:

  • A six dollar six-pack of beer would now pop for twelve. That’s double.
  • A $14.95 bottle of vodka would after passage cost $31.87! A 113% increase.
  • A bottle of Two Buck Chuck ($1.99) would soon cost $7.10. Try a 250% pop.

The claim is that this would raise between seven and nine billion annually. This is a mighty appealing number to a state which is digging it’s hole deeper at the clip of 20 billion a year. Of course, the tax won’t actually raise that much. It’ll send allegedly productive citizens of the state like RumDood (whose Twitter feed brought me this monstrosity) screaming into the protective arms of somewhere like Texas. And those who can’t leave the state will just drink less. A lot less.

And that, of course, is the real purpose of this ballot initiative. It’s Prohibition via the tax code. The actual text of the initiative is almost completely taken up with a litany of the Evils of Drink™. (Most of the rest is spent detailing the massive additional paperwork and collection burden to be placed on retailers) The revenue allegedly to be created will not patch any portion of the hole in the general fund either. It will instead be automatically appropriated to the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. (Resulting in a 1000% increase in funding for that department. I smell a wild Christmas party at the DADP!)
Would this tax actually mean an end of booze consumption in the Golden State? No, but it would certainly result in a massive reduction in consumption, as well as a huge disruption in patterns of drinking and commerce.
No truer words were ever spoken than “the power to tax is the power to destroy”. And baby, a tax like this would destroy. California’s wine industry, already teetering atop a popping bubble, would implode, bars and restaurants would shutter, as would grocery and package stores.
The prohibitionists would point out that fat cats at Big Booze, who make their money off of human misery, deserve their comeuppance. And this makes sense to me, of course. Why, when my mind pictures all those soon-to-be justly unemployed grape pickers and beer truck drivers showing up to work each day chuckling evilly about how they are profiting unspeakably at the hands of the drinking rubes, it makes my blood boil! How about you? And of course this massive additional unemployment would help with the Demon Rum problem too, since permanent unemployment never leads to substance abuse issues.
Now, I called this political theater not only because it is Prohibition, masquerading as a money grab, masquerading as fiscal discipline, but also because it likely has no chance in Hell of garnering the 433,971 signatures it needs to even get on the ballot. The idea for the kabuki dancers pushing it is to put out their indictment of alcohol in the public eye, and maybe collect the names of a bunch more people for the Gullible Rubes Who’ll Sign Anything database. But since the level of stupidity of California voters has been demonstrated in oh so many ways these last decades, I can’t be completely confident.
UPDATE: Jacob Grier has a similar, though less rambling entertaining, take on this issue. He contributes some good additional insight into what might be the actual, nefarious design behind this initiative, using the Overton Window.


  1. jsallison

    1 April

    Will the last person capable of rational thought in CA please turn out the lights and plow up the highway at the border on the way out? C.M.Kornbluth was prophetic re his story ‘The Marching Morons’.

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  2. Matt R.

    3 April

    I don’t know that plowing up the highway is a great idea, considering California produces an awful lot of the produce that the US doesn’t have to import. America’s “bread basket” is good for little else than corn.

    To be honest, I hate the way a lot of things are done in my state, but at the same time I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit tired of listening to people rant against California as though it contained some sort of plague. If you don’t live here and you don’t like it, then don’t move here. We won’t miss you.

    On the tax, it’s utterly ridiculous. And it gets proposed every election. I’m not sure how much of an Overton Window it is versus the sponsors just being batshit crazy. My friends in the political arena seem to think it’s more the latter.

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  3. Doug

    3 April

    I’m sure a significant portion of it is Batshit Craziness (pretty sure there isn’t a listing for that in the DSM, but that just shows how limited it is). But people like this get used by others for Overton type stuff.

    That said, I agree that we need to keep the highways open to get produce… if you’ll turn the water back on so that the produce can be grown. The problem many of us have with California’s dementia is that it affects us in other states every day. The size of your market allows Sacramento to defacto dictate standards for all sorts of products elsewhere.

    Oh, and those of us in the rest of the country are ill-favored toward the idea California will soon have that if we must bail out GM and AIG, then California is surely Too Big To Fail™.

    California is my family’s home, so I also have a deep emotional attachment to the state. But even for those with no real connection at all, the greatness that once was, and still could be again, California is painful to watch pass away. In it, we see our own potential future.

    It’s also sorta like people who haven’t watched a baseball game in twenty years getting all huffy over McGuire. Understand that those of us who stick our nose in from out of state do it as much out of deep-seated love as we do it out of fear.

    Finally, if you DO pass this thing (no chance, I know) I’m all for the highway plowing. Maybe we can hire all those grape-pickers and truck drivers to do the work, and they’ll be able to afford to move to Oklahoma (thereby completing the circle begun with the Grapes of Wrath)

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