Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Wages of Sin

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Tomorrow the largest federal tobacco tax increase in history takes effect as the tax on a pack of cigarettes goes from $0.39 to $1.01. This "sin tax" is expected to raise $33 billion towards health care expansion for children. This continues a trend to tax specific products to pay for social programs. Even the state of Nevada was considering taxing prostitution to make up for shortfalls in their budget.

There are three choices to politically curb social vices, legislate/regulate, tax, or use the bully pulpit as a platform for change. Social conservatives have traditionally taken the legislate/regulate route, while taxing is more palatable to social liberals. Sadly, we rarely see anyone use their political power to address vices. Nancy Reagan's campaign to "just say no" is the most obvious, and maybe even the most recent, that I can think of (up until only recently, following the over-hyped "value voter", other issues such as health care, immigration, and so forth have seldom been approached as social ills).

The irony of course, is that while so many cry foul whenever someone tries to pass legislation to curb something like abortion which infringes on a woman's right to choose, few voices are heard when something like cigarettes are excessively taxed. And unless I've missed it, people still have the right to "choose" whether or not to smoke. You could argue that these aren't morally equivalent, but we're not talking morals here- we're talking legal rights.

Not that it matters anyway. Every vice could be taxed to the point of being prohibitively expensive, regulated far beyond mere inconvenience, and outlawed with the strictest penalties and people would still choose to indulge in their favorite sin. It is, after all, in our nature. The only way to effectively curb a social vice is to address it on moral grounds. That cannot be done from the ballot box, but from the pew; not during an election cycle, but every day; not from an elected leader, but from our own Christian example.

Of course we all know the real "sin tax" is the eternal penalty to be paid for our sins. Thanks be to God for our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who paid that tax in advance for us.

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