Sin taxes: Invasive and ineffective


Sin taxes have played roles of varying importance throughout US history, going all the way back to 1790, when Alexander Hamilton proposed the first excise tax on whiskey to pay off Revolutionary War debts.

That brought about the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania a few years later, in which President George Washington was forced to lead nearly 13,000 militia to quell the insurrection. 

Throughout much of US history, federal excise taxes have been predominantly enacted as wartime emergency measures, and the majority of the taxes were customarily repealed when hostilities ended, according to Richard Williams and Katelyn Christ of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

In a paper titled “Taxing Sin,” the pair write that arguments for imposing new excise taxes and increasing existing ones – on such items as cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, gasoline, bullets, and, more recently, sugary soft drinks and fatty snacks – have reemerged with bipartisan support and have spawned several myths about the efficacy of sin taxation.

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