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Abolish the Tampon Tax, Even If It's What SJWs Want

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10/22/2019

The latest evidence of the brutality of the patriarchy, we are told, is the fact that sanitary napkins are subject to sales tax. Thus, some protests have sprung up around the country decrying the fact tampons and pads are made less affordable by taxation.

Some the SJW-world's natural enemies were quick to point to the hypocrisy of a group that tends to never meet a tax increase it doesn't like. Laissez-faire musician Eric July, for example, quips , "Oh so nooooow it's theft?" He means taxation.

The reasoning used by the protestors was summarized by Congresswomen Sylvia Garcia who complained “I’m convinced that if men menstruated, there would be a tampon machine in every bathroom everywhere."

Moreover, as public radio station WBUR contends , people who menstruate (i.e., women and girls) "spend an estimated $150 million a year just on the sales tax for these items."

Thus, the alleged fact the "tampon tax" targets only these groups — and the fact men don't menstruate — shows we must end the tax on these items immediately.

In Fact, Lots of Men Pay This Tax

One doesn't need to endorse the line of reasoning used by Garcia and the WBUR authors to be fine with a tax cut on these items.

After all, as a man with a wife and two daughters (among other children), I can assure my readers that "people who menstruate" are not the only people who pay taxes on feminine hygiene products.

Taxes on these items dent the household budget of every person in every household that purchases these items. That includes a lot of men. These taxes also reduce overall consumption for every shop, store, and merchant who provides these sorts of products. Which means entrepreneurs — both male and female — are also hit by the tax. Like all taxes, the "tampon tax" drains wealth from both buyers and sellers, and sends it to government bureaucrats.

Yes, the general framing of the issue by the protesters is silly. The idea that old men in charge of the machinery of government only tax tampons because they are are indifferent to the cost imposed is implausible. After all, there is no known case of a sales tax being levied specifically on sanitary napkins. They're simply taxed at the usual sales-tax rate imposed on many, many items. Moreover, when men (mostly in local governments) were first imposing these sales taxes, the taxes were more likely to directly affect men than they are now. In the past, men were more likely to share a household with a women than is the case today. Thus, modern men, freed from the shackles of a shared household budget with women, should be clamoring for higher tampon taxes now.  No evidence suggests this is true.

Of course, the protestors have a wide variety of reasons as to why men might tax themselves more, just to spite women. As noted by Catherine Rampell , the idea here seems to be that men "one day decide[d] that periods were gross and therefore ought to be made more expensive."

This might make sense if seventh-grade boys were setting sales-tax rates, but that doesn't appear to be the case. After all, as the left is so fond of telling us, right wingers all worship the idea of homo economicus and are unable to refuse the prospect of monetary and material gain. Clearly, these people wouldn't tax themselves more for such an inane reason.

Raising Taxes to Own the Libs

The tribalism encouraged by the culture war has driven some opponents of the protesters to embrace higher taxes, apparently out of spite. Writing for The Federalist, Elizabeth Bauer opposes lower taxes, so long as the tax cut happens to be for tampons and pads. Such a tax cut, she contends, is "a crazy sort of scorekeeping" and is "more about scoring points for one's tribe" than what we really need which is "a tax code that is sensible and reasonable for everyone."

The idea here seems to be: "higher taxes are good, so long as it means sticking it to those leftists!"

I hate to break it to Bauer, but the tax code is already rife with "a crazy sort of scorekeeping." In my hometown in Colorado, for example, food purchased for consumption at home is taxed at zero percent. The premise is that taxes on food are regressive, and thus affect poor people more. But of course, not all food is exempt from tax. Prepared food (i.e., take-out) is subject to the regular sales tax. This adds another layer to that "scorekeeping," since a tax on prepared food is largely a tax on two-income families where households are too busy to prepare meals at home. It's a tax on single people who prefer take-out. It's a tax on people who can't cook.

But why should these other groups have to pay more taxes for their food? If a bunch of feminists lobbying for "working moms" came out and called for a cut in the tax on prepared meals, should we then oppose a reduction for some culture-war-related reason?

This should not strike one as a good reason to oppose a tax cut.

Moreover, it would hardly be a mortal blow to the cause of a "sensible tax code" to add tampons and pads to the list of items taxed at zero percent. 32 US states already exempt food from the state sales taxes. That means merchants already must separate items into non-taxable items (a box of mac and cheese) and taxable items (a bottle of shampoo).

Sometimes, this leads to absurd distinctions between taxable and non-taxable items, such as was recently noted by the State of New Jersey on Twitter:

Many pointed out it will be exceptionally difficult to enforce a tax on those who use pumpkins for non-food purposes. That's true. But the lack of enforceability is hardly a bad thing for taxpayers.

If there is perceived unfairness in the tax code, the solution is to lower taxes on the groups currently paying higher rates, until rates are equalized. Opposing tax cuts for reasons of "fairness" or sticking it to leftists just ends up ensuring tax rates never actually go down. Besides, demanding that menstruating women pay more taxes does not make for a great political cause.

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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