Taxing the poor

For all the hub-bub we hear about taxing the rich, we routinely overlook the degree to which the poor are taxed.  The “taxes” on the poor, however, aren’t generally thought of as taxes on the poor.  What I’m talking about is state run lotteries and cigarette taxes.  Of course, these revenues aren’t pointed at the poor per se — I don’t believe — but that is the effect they have.

It’s not the government’s fault, or problem, if these two revenue sources disparately impact low income individuals, is it?  I’m not inclined to blame the government on this issue, especially since smoking and gambling are voluntary.  This is kind of a two-edged sword of sorts.  It’s not really a function of the government to protect people from the consequences of their poor decision making.  But then again, as a working taxpayer, it is my hard-earned money that is taken from me by the government and dispersed via social programs to subsidize poverty.

Statistically speaking, the poor are more likely than not to participate in state run lotteries whether instant scratch tickets or numbers drawings.  Before I kept links to studies I read one which reported that the poor were more likely to prefer lotteries to investments.  Essentially, the participants were offered two scenarios.  The first was a $10 in exchange for 10 entries for a chance to win $50 instantly.  The second was $10 in exchange for a guaranteed $50 payout three weeks later.  The lower income respondents overwhelmingly opted for the lottery style option.

smokersIt’s also no secret that the poor are more likely to be smokers.  As with gasoline, the government profits significantly from the taxes on cigarettes.  The federal government has their hand in the cookie jar, and the states tack on their own tax which varies from state to state.

I make no attempt to hide why I am unsympathetic for the plight of the poor, generally speaking.  More often than not, a person finds themselves in poverty due to a lifetime of poor decisions made either by themselves or by their parents.  Rarely do people find them self Either way, in America, poverty is somewhat self-imposed.  So not only is smoking cigarettes bad for your health, it wreaks havoc on your pocketbook: a doubly poor decision.  Add to that the more-likely-to-be-struck-by-lightning odds of lotteries and perhaps we have some insight as to why the poor are poor, they make horrible financial decisions… with my money.

So there are at least two ways to look at this.  First, cigarette taxes and state lotteries impact the poor more than any other income group, thus making the poor even poorer and more likely to utilize government assistance.  And secondly, we could see these “taxes” as an opportunity to recoup some of that welfare.

For me, it’s six of one, half a dozen of another.  If the poor quit smoking, they’d have more money… a lot more money.  The national average cost for a pack of cigarettes being around $6, this amounts to roughly $2000 annually spent for a pack a day smoker.  But does kicking the smoking and gambling habits really mean more more money?  Not likely.  Given how bad the poor are at making financial decisions, they’d just be spending it on something else no doubt.

So do the pols who pound their chest in braggery for their love of the poor really helping them by draining their wallets through these taxes?  Should we impose “sin taxes” on the people who can least afford to pay them, and who seem to have the least ability to refrain from participating?


  1. Maybe… If this suggestion were actually made from a position of concern for the poor rather than a position of disdain for the poor, then it might be developed to something useful. After all, a caring person would advocate for at least some level of free drugs to steward an addict to recovery, or even as an alternative to death by street drugs.

    As it happens, you put this forth from a position of extreme callousness and disdain, taking a swipe at the most vulnerable in order to badmouth the liberals you hate even more and to protect the rich who need the least protection. “a person finds themselves in poverty due to a lifetime of poor decisions made either by themselves or by their parents” – Wrong. The poor find themselves in poverty because they don’t know any different, never had a chance to do better, and live in a society that encourages them to stay in the situation that they are in. And by the way, the rich are taking every effort to exploit them by, for example, selling cigarettes and lottery tickets. Where’s your compassion?

    But the crux of your argument is that 1) money is the most important factor and 2) that $2000 makes the difference between poverty and subsistence living, or comfort or luxury for that matter. Going from $10k to $12k or $20k to $22k is significant relatively speaking but it’s certainly not going to move someone into a different life situation. No money will.

    Education in health, finances, and job skills will make a difference. Education is the best way to solve bad behaviors like smoking and lottery (and McDonalds and having 6 kids). So if you’re suggesting some way to protect the poor from damaging activities like cigarettes and lottery tickets, then I’m all for it. But won’t that violate your free market sensibilities?

    • You say the poor don’t have a chance? Bull. Free public school is available to every child, they choose to neglect that opportunity. They instead choose other poor choices then when they’re grown think they’re owed a do over.

      So education? Sure, but they piss it away. Health? Sure but they dont choose healthy options, they smoke, drink, and have children at young ages.

      There are scores of people who were born into poverty in the ghetto who rise out and become judges, doctors, lawyers and whatnot. What makes them different from the failures which surround them? Their choices.

      So the questions remains, is it caring to institute hidden taxes on those who can least afford them and who are the least able to control their poor behavior? Should these “taxes” be repealed?

  2. “Interestingly, the relationship between income and smoking among Americans does not appear to repeat itself at the country level. Gallup researchers previously found no consistent relationship between the prevalence of smoking in a country and its location or its residents’ relative wealth.”

  3. I thought you were talking about poor and rich, John.

  4. sally1137 says:

    I don’t presume to speak for the author, but I can understand his frustration with the uneducated poor, who don’t know any better, but can see other people getting up in the morning and going to work, while they do not.

    Sure, some people are unemployed, but you know very well that there are some who refuse to take a job that’s beneath them because it’s more profitable to sit home, collect unemployment, and expect Uncle Sugar to take care of them.

    I can also understand his frustration at leftists whose idea of solving a problem is to
    1) have a blue ribbon commision of “educators” study and report back, and
    2) throw taxpayer money at the problem
    3) never follow through to see if it worked or whether unintended consequences occur.

    Having been dirt poor and worked my way up, I know that not everyone will do it. Success is HARD.

    • Sally

      I think you’re right. People stay poor because they are willing to tolerate the limitations of life it brings. Only until one is fed up with their situation will they seek something better. Being successful is hard, you’re right.

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