In a recent Congressional debate, Missouri Congressman Jason Smith went on a trippy thought experiment that could have been right out of the movie Dazed and Confused:
You could tax a lot of different items if you want to stop behavior. I love ice cream. Ice cream’s probably not the most healthy thing to eat. Why is there not a tax on that? If you look at the number one cause of cancer, it’s not tanning beds. Do a Google search. It’s the sun. The people over here haven’t found too many taxes that they dislike, so why have they not proposed a tax on the sun instead of tanning beds?
If you haven’t seen the video clip, I highly recommend it.
In fact, the Representative from Missouri’s 8th District regularly and heavily relies on Google to cite the facts upon which he relies, also citing a “Google search” for a statistic establishing that women are disproportionately affected by a tax on tanning beds. (Mind you, it’s troubling to use Google as a ‘source’, since Google isn’t actually a source of data. I don’t doubt the general propositions for which Smith cites Google, but his citations are totally without value. Don’t get me wrong: It’s fine to use Google. Google a question, find a credible source for the answer, and then cite that credible source. To say “I found this answer on Google” is unclear, unreliable, and frankly lazy.)
But while this puzzling tirade about ice cream and sun taxes is weird, this wasn’t just some vague absurd hypothetical. Smith actually appears to believe that, if we’re taxing ‘things that cause cancer’, the sun is as sensible a thing to tax as any. When Sandy Levin called him out on the utter nonsense of it (“I’ll tell you why, because it’s a little hard to tax the sun”), Smith asserted that “Spain taxes the sun!” Levin expressed his doubts about how (or if) that could be true, and Smith promised to send him an article.
Spain does, in fact, have a controversial tax referred to as a “sun tax”, but it has nothing to do with skin exposure or cancer risk. On the contrary, it’s a tax on photovoltaic cells – solar panels – so as to bring in tax revenue based on electricity that is privately produced and consumed. The wisdom of Spain’s ‘sun tax’ is dubious, but it neither seeks nor achieves analogous policy goals to the tax on tanning beds.
Jason Smith’s claim that Spain ‘taxes the sun’ is false in any relevant sense of the phrase, and it’s hard to see how he could have believed otherwise: Either he knew that the ‘sun tax’ wasn’t actually analogous, and he was doing the Congressional equivalent of trolling, or he just saw the headline of a Spanish sun tax in a Google search, without actually reading about it.
In either event, I should point out to the good folk of Missouri’s 8th Congressional District, including Rolla, West Plains, Farmington, Perryville, Cape Girardeau, Sikeston, and Poplar Bluff…
…this is your Representative.