Thursday, April 08, 2010

How Gay Marriage is Not Like Plastic Bags

Listen, small governmenters. I understand that the plastic bag tax scares you. I understand why. I understand that you have issues with a big, blowsy government trying to tell you what to do when they obviously can’t take care of themselves, and you especially don’t want a reminder of that every time you choose to use a fucking plastic bag. I get that.

But here’s the thing: a five-cent bag tax is NOT the government telling you what to do.


It’s an INCENTIVE. Just an incentive to behave in the way that the government wants you to behave. If you drive too fast, the government will issue you a speeding ticket. If you buy cigarettes, the government will take some tax to shore up against your eventual health care costs. Hell, if you DRIVE, the government will take a gas tax to pay for roads, and the faster you drive, the more you’ll pay in gas, because the more gas you’ll burn.

But you know what? You CAN PAY THE FIVE CENTS. The government isn’t telling you that you CAN’T use a plastic bag. (That WOULD be telling you what to do.) The government is laying out the consequences of your actions so that you can make an informed decision. That is, in fact, one of the governments’ JOBS—to get its citizens to think globally. To remind its citizens that hey, you may not ever see the increased cost of your health care, smoker, or you may not understand why you can’t just go five miles over the speed limit, but we have seen the data on the deaths of young people under the age of 18 and we’ve seen the 100 years of data on smokers’ lungs and we’re telling you, you are incurring a cost on society and we are going to make you pay it.

So when the plastic bag tax failed here in WA, I couldn’t understand why the heck people bucked against THAT tax when they hadn’t bucked much against, say, sin tax. But pretty soon I realized that hey, taxes—and incentives—are easier to ignore when they don’t personally apply to you, EVEN IF they go against your own personal value system. A small governmenter, in my mind, should be equally screaming about the cigarette tax and the plastic bag tax, but it turns out they’re not, because humans don’t think rationally. A small governmenter can look at the sin tax and think to himself, “Well, that’s not really in line with my beliefs, but I’m not going to fight too hard for it because I don’t smoke. Yeah, it sucks that my neighbor is paying two dollars extra a pack, but I don’t PERSONALLY pay it, plus I can kind of get behind where the government is coming from.”

And yet a five-cent bag tax fills people with ire. Why? For the first time, an incentive like this affects everyone.

Affects. Everyone.

EVERYONE. Black, white, old, young, female, male. Everyone. Everyone would pay this tax. CHILDREN would be paying this tax. Anyone who can put money on a counter and get candy in return. And so people rose up in arms like never before, because this is the first time such an incentive has applied to them. It’s obviously not the AMOUNT—five cents is almost nothing. It’s not that the tax is difficult to pay—it’s just added to your bill. It’s not even that the tax is hurting the environment, if indeed anyone actually cared about that. It may be partly the smallness of the action—the average consumer can’t really believe that plastic bags are so harmful that they should have to pay five cents. But people pay speeding tickets, and people will eventually pay the plastic bag tax, too.

Because despite what I just said a few sentences ago, this is not actually the first time such a tax has been applied to them, even small governmenters. They still pay speeding tickets, and parking tickets. But the newness of this kind of tax confused them, and so people complained about the government telling them what to do.

But let me repeat myself, if I may: a five cent tax is not telling you what to do. You can just pay the tax and use your goddamned plastic bag, right? Right. Now let’s imagine that the government is telling you that you CAN’T, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, MARRY YOUR SAME-SEX LOVER.

THAT is a good example of the government actually telling you what, in fact, you may or may not do, with your private life.

Let’s now imagine that the government went ahead and said, “Okay. You CAN actually marry your same-sex partner—legally, with all the rights and privileges of any hetero couple, and the law and the health care companies will not be able to tell you any differently. But for this privilege, you will have to pay us, say, $4,000 dollars.”

That’s right. Let’s put an incentive on our gay marriage thought experiment. The homosexual tax. Would people pay it?

Of course not. Why?

Because MARRIAGE SHOULD BE FREE. Because no American in their right mind would pay for an inalienable right.

This argument falls apart, of course, if you don’t believe that plastic bags harm the environment and that the Gay infect everyone around them with their perversion, and the beauty of America is that you are totally allowed to believe that. But it doesn’t change the FACTS: a five cent bag tax is an incentive. Inability to marry the love of your life is living in a police state. If anyone should be complaining about the size of the government, it’s people who love the same damn sex.


Beth said...

Awesome. And besides awesome, written well.

T-town Girl said...

I love you and I think this is a great post BUT paying a bag tax is not an incentive. It is a disincentive. An incentive is getting a 5 cent credit for bringing your own bag. In general, taxes are disincentives and credits are incentives. But your claim that a bag tax is not the government telling you what to do is correct. It is the government letting you know what it thinks you should do; in what I would consider a pretty polite and non intrusive way I might add.