December 30, 2014

The hidden factor in the Garner slaying

One of the least noted factors in the increase in police brutality is the cultural effect of prohibition. Alcohol prohibition produced a quasi-military conflict between the police and illegal users and distributors. The same has been true of the drug war. When the police battle something which is widely accepted cultural behavior, the fight becomes angry and rough.Eric Garner was not caught stealing something but merely selling cigarettes without the prohibition style New York tax. Here's some background:

Lawrence J. McQuillan, Washington Times -  High taxes produce underground markets for goods and services, and when these taxes are hiked, smuggling increases. Nowhere is this illustrated more clearly than in New York City.

In the name of cutting smoking rates, New York has the highest state cigarette tax at $4.35 per pack. New York City piles on an additional local cigarette tax of $1.50 per pack. Since 2006, the cigarette tax in New York state has been raised 190 percent. In response, cigarette smuggling there increased 59 percent. More than half of all cigarettes consumed in New York state are smuggled, according to a 2014 report by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Garner chose to participate in the booming underground cigarette market as a smuggler. Since 2009, he had been arrested eight times for selling loosies, which are popular among people who can’t afford a full pack because of the excessive taxes.

In January 2014, tough new penalties for selling untaxed cigarettes took effect in New York City. In July, emboldened by the new law, the city’s highest-ranking uniformed cop, Philip Banks, issued an order to crack down on loosie sales days before Garner died.

These events confirm that police are ultimately the enforcers of the tax code, and every vote for higher taxes gives police increased authority to exert more force on citizens in more situations. Higher excise taxes inevitably lead to more violent clashes between police and smugglers.

Americans have a long tradition of smuggling to avoid taxes. Some Founding Fathers were smugglers. John Hancock, for example, operated one of the largest smuggling operations in the American Colonies in order to avoid British trade taxes. Hancock smuggled glass, paper, French molasses, Dutch tea, rum, wine and tobacco...

From black markets in cigarettes to black markets in drugs, today police ride herd over voluntary exchanges between individuals in American communities and kill smugglers on the streets. Garner was another victim of this immoral system — “collateral damage” in New York’s war on tobacco.

Eliminating punitive cigarette taxes would shrink the underground market and help redirect police resources to combating real crimes of force and violence, rather than empowering police to employ violence in the name of tax collection.


Anonymous said...

Removing Cigarette taxes would create an ugly catch 22. Youth smoking goes down when cigarette prices are high, but this also causes smuggling. In many ways I don't want to see high taxes removed from cigarettes, but the police should not be killing people who smuggle and distribute. That is a "crime" that should at most get a ticket. Age limits on cigarettes also decrease youth smoking, while black market sellers don't card. I don't know what to do, but what is currently going on is a catch 22.

Anonymous said...

The last commenter is perplexed. What to do, he/she asks. This question stems from the notion that "somebody" (i.e. government) needs to intervene if/when a substance, like tobacco, can be harmful. Why? Because it's "right" to do so? I challenge that position. I think it's "right" for the government to keep its nose out of private affairs, such as what substances people care to ingest or use. Reduction of use and demand, if warranted, should be achieved through education, not laws. And if some people don't want such help, well, then, that's their right.