California Potheads and the Half-witted Twits – E. Marshall Hoyt
Economics is a complicated beast. More importantly, it’s incredibly hard to measure, understand, or even predict. One little change to how you do business and the effect ripples. A small change in interaction in a large business and everything that business does is effected, and effects other things. Everything that is connected to money- and several things that aren’t- form this massive spider web.
This is why it can be hard to make judgments- come elections- whether some amendments are worth it. You always get the ones where people are thinly trying to sell you on the concept of reform for something admirable like education or public works, asking for just a little bit more money (e.g. higher taxes on everyone), but word it in such a way it’s too open ended a risk. Sure, your amendment says it wants public funding to improve roads, sidewalks, traffic lights, other projects, road repair response and public property gardening. But wait, back up- what the hell does “Other projects” entail, and how much of this money are you planning to use on “Other projects” instead of the actual appealing items? Those amendments are usually an easy “no” on my ballot. But then, there’s genuinely some where the benefits, risks and disadvantages are actually hard to weigh, and come down to personal preference.
There are always ones that are a very obvious “no”, because even an idiot doesn’t have to weigh the benefits to the disadvantages. In Colorado’s case, they put a movement called “Colorado-Care” on the ballot this year. It was indeed as awful a concept as it sounds. “A mere 10% increase in taxes on basically everything from sales to rent, and we can fund a healthcare system even more broken than Obamacare!” was their sales pitch. It was defeated 80-20, and while I’m concerned that 20% of our population thought that was a swell idea, I’m going to assume those people are the idiots from California I’m about to get to.
Because you see, the final items you’ll see on a ballot are ones you would think, very obviously, are terrible economic ideas and this should be clear to everyone. But, a lot of people in California, based on some of the amendments they just passed, suffer from what I like to call “One-step Politics”. This is to say, the concept that any proposed reform, any idea put forth for improvement or any change for the “greater good” is exactly what it says on the package and nothing more. I could do a whole article on how dangerous this belief is, and where it’s more prevalent… but like economics, it’s a whole woven web and it would take a while to explain. For now, I want to cover 3 of the amendments that passed in California, due to this way of thinking:
- Proposition 30, to extend tax hikes on the top 3% of California taxpayers, and also increase sales tax a might bit (Originally proposed in 2012 as a “temporary” and passed this year to extend itself another 12 years).
- Proposition 56, Tobacco tax, increasing the tax on cigarettes by a massive $2.00 per pack up to $2.87 per pack, but this tax also affects e-cigarettes
- Proposition 67, Plastic bags (single-use) are now illegal, although meats and perishables seem to be allowed to use single-use bags, it’s unclear if the company would accrue charges for providing them or if most stores will know they are allowed to do this.
These all, to some extent, seem like great measures. Tax the rich, discourage smoking and protect the environment. Well, okay, none of them seem great to me, but I can see why some people would vote for them. Tax the rich, and there will be more money for the rest of us. Tax tobacco, and it’ will discourage smoking. Ban plastic bags, and we’ll help protect the environment. In one step- they’re exactly that. Helpful measures. So what’s the problem?
Like I mentioned before, everything in society is attached to each other like a web, one little change and it sends a ripple throughout the system, making small and sometimes big changes to how people live their lives. These measures are more than just the “X does Y” that people that voted for them would like to think. They lack the ability to understand that “X affects everything”.
The first measure, Proposition 30, is probably the easiest to cover. There have been several articles as to why taxing the rich is a *terrible* idea, and how it ultimately effects the motivation, income and thus living standards of those bellow them. It’s easy to hate those with more money, and ironically the people I would say are the least deserving due to earning such massive wealth in comparison to the amount of work put in, are movie actors. I’d say California-based actors are probably feeling the effects of this measure pretty hard, and kind of deserve it. That is of course just my personal bias against actors who, a good portion of which, make an habit of talking about how evil corporations are simply because they have money, before relaxing at home in their backyard swimming pool serviced by their personal butler. Most of them, thanks to modern style, are the literal definition of “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”, and lord knows I’ve been tempted to head down to thrown some stones myself. That being said, they did earn their money, and I don’t think it’s right to tax them or anyone else in Cali just for having it. Especially since California is more than just actors, it’s also home to Silicon Valley, and several important tech companies. I guarantee to you there are plenty of people there that earn over 250k, but they also work their asses off, and deserve that money. Also, the bill’s progressive taxation. Punishing you more the more you make, is inane. To the extent that earning 250k, you’re getting taxed so much you’re literally earning almost the exact same amount of money as you would be if you were earning 240k a year after taxes. That is to say, that getting a $5/hr raise is meaningless. Granted at 250k you’re also earning essentially $125/hr, but of course anyone making that much is doing so because they are doing something that doesn’t really pay hourly. Regardless, it is still a spider web, and while business revenue and personal revenue are different beasts, you’re still hurting the people that run everything where it counts. The people won’t be using their personal money to further the market- they won’t buy as many things, hire as many people for household maintenance, it keeps their money out of the general flow of money, and it doesn’t trickle down. They aren’t buying a new TV, and the TV salesman as a result isn’t getting a commission on a sale, which then means his daughter has less money to spend at the clothing store, so the clothing store makes less money so it uses cheaper materials to offset the costs and well, it all spirals out everywhere. As a result, the income of everyone below them drops just a little bit more. As a result, more money is wasted by government and less is available to the people.
Worse yet, the measure sneaks in a higher sales tax on everyone, which obviously helps no one. But worst of all, this money is all funneled into K-12 schools and community colleges. Again, sounds great on the tin, but it doesn’t really put any bars on *how* K-12 schools spend the money. I find, having been through the school system before, that educational institutions rarely know how to spend their money the more you give them. In fact a tighter budget actually forces them to be smart, and at my second high school they actually had to put out requests for funding on individual matters. My high school Robotics team found funding through companies, as opposed to asking the school or district for money (In fact the district took 6 years to even recognize the team in any capacity, despite 5 trips to championships by then). However, my first high school, given a bunch of money because it was in the middle of downtown and pretty ghetto, spent several tens of thousands on upgrading the Mac computers in the Mac lab to the newest and most expensive apple computers. All while leaving the rest of the computers in the entire school to be the bulky monitors and Windows 98’ machines. This was in 2010, by the way, where absolutely no part of their spending made any sense when everyone did their work on the PC’s, not the handful of Macs near the art room. But that’s my point. No part of that spending made any sense and I doubt giving California schools several million dollars is going to result in a suddenly more educated future generation. Especially since another amendment in California now allows bi-lingual education, and I can’t begin to give a history lesson on why that’s never turned out well for anyone. On top of *another* amendment that is giving $9 billion in bonds to K-12 schools, which means an extra $500 million per year that California has to pay, and guess who will be paying for that? (Hint, everyone in California).
But that’s the easy proposition, that’s obviously a bad idea, even if more people voted yes on that than they did to legalize weed. What about Proposition 56? Well, obviously also a boneheaded move. Listen, I don’t smoke. But I get why people do. In fact I totally get it- it’s a way to relax. For some people it’s even more than that. For some people it’s a way to switch vices, move from being a consistent alcohol drinker to simply a smoker. It’s not much healthier in the long run, but being sober is a good trade off for a lot of people. It’s a pleasure device, it’s fun; it’s a way to escape the negative aspects of life. So why on Earth does California think this massive tax on cigs is anything sort of a terrible idea for the general mood of the population? I’d say, based on the numbers, at least 15% of the population of California smokes, which is roughly 1/7 people. Seems about standard, and while some might quit given the higher cost, others won’t, and will simply be much poorer because of it. A lot poorer. Take into account that people will be more irritable, since likely they’re either struggling or cutting back, and suddenly everyone is getting hit a bit. Some servers are less pleasant, some friends more on edge, people in high stress jobs are more itchy and inefficient. If a 30 minute smoke break it all it took for some people to relax a bit and work efficiently all day, suddenly people forced to buy less don’t work as efficiently, entire companies see a slight downwards trend in productivity. Warehouses end with more arguments and fewer deliveries, the people that normally can keep a level head are getting yelled at by some employee who can barely make ends meet and now has to choose between smoking or eating most nights, so he’s never in a good mood anymore. Some people will probably switch back to drinking, because it might suddenly be a cheaper vice to indulge in. Less is done, more people are unhappy, and even people using harmless e-cigs are being punished, which is the most insulting part of that measure. But that’s the thing. Little California Suzy thinks this proposition is all fine and dandy and then is confused why her package came in late, and was not handled with much care. Because Suzy, the idiot, didn’t think that the proposition could affect her life in any way. Suzy, as aforementioned, suffers from “One-step Politics” and doesn’t understand how everything affects each other. The use of this money is, however, at least not too open-ended. It’s all anti-tobacco measures and lung disease research, except for “physician training”, which is mighty vague. And unlike the previous proposition, doesn’t actually give a breakdown as to what percentage of money is going to what (In the previous, 89% is going to K-12, but that doesn’t really allay my concerns much).
But you know what? As much as this is going to effect the average taxpayer, as much as both prior propositions are going to cut more at the lower income citizens, and change the general mood of the populus- it’s Proposition 67 that’s changing how people live their very lives.
The concept is this- Stores will no longer provide single use bags except in very particular cases, boiling down to providing a bag if you have bought meats or perishables, or the item you bought needs protection from the other items in the reusable bag you brought. In all other cases, you either have to buy a “sturdy” reusable bag for 10 cents minimum, or bring your own. All of this being under the guise of environmental protection, and giving the local state government a little less than 1 million in projected income, which I can only assume will be used to enact further environmental regulations down the line. Of course, if you actually care about the environment enough, this sure seems like a great idea, I guess. But if you care about how people live their lives, then it’s not so great.
Let me explain- a lot of the market, and a lot of stores, rely on this concept I like to call “Impulse buying”. It’s a concept that three kinds of business profit off of the most, as far as I can immediately think of. These are malls, thrift stores, and book stores. You see, we’re humans, and as such we rarely know exactly what we plan on getting when we go somewhere. I certainly end up buying birthday and Christmas gifts last minute, and as such, when I enter a store I don’t actually know what I’m going to get. Thus, I rarely know how much I plan on taking out. When I can rely on having my stuff put in a bag after I purchase items, that’s not a problem. But when I don’t? There are a lot of aspects to this, but simply put: no one is going to carry around a bunch of bags with them. You might, if you are headed to the grocery store and know almost exactly what you’re getting, but otherwise?
Take malls for example. They run off not the concept that you are going there to purchase anything, necessarily, but the concept that you are hanging out there with friends and *might* buy something. The idea that you’re walking around with friends at a mall, see a store, go in, and purchase something on a whim, maybe a T-shirt or a stuffed bear. But as a consumer, you might go to the mall and buy nothing at all. You really don’t have a plan if you’re heading to the mall, most of the time. I’ve gone to the mall several times, and sometimes I walk out with nothing, other times I walk out with cologne and some new workout clothes. But lord knows, if I knew I had to spend the rest of my time hanging out with my friends at the mall while attempting to hold everything I bought, just in my hands… I don’t think I would have bought most of anything I’ve ever gotten at a mall. I might not even buy things at malls at all, except for food.
That’s exactly my point- malls will suffer, because instead of people coming into your clothing store, expecting to buy a new pair of shoes and falling in love with a large bundle of clothing, they stop themselves right before the checkout line and realize they didn’t bring any bags to carry everything with, and they don’t want to carry around a large ball of clothing to their car, so they slowly put everything back. What of thrift stores that rely almost entirely on the concept that people browse, and don’t actually know what they’re going to buy when they come in? It’s a real problem. Book stores, barely on their last legs, live because people like my own mother used to go in, see dozens of books she liked and take out 3 bags full of books to read over the weekend. When you go into a bookstore, you go there intentionally looking for new stories and adventures to get lost in. When you go in, not planning on going in at first, bagless and without a place to put the books? You’ll take out a couple, since you can actually carry those out with you.
This proposition, for all the good it pretends to do, kills the concept of “impulse buying”, and thus also kills the chances that small products have of surviving. Small, barely marketed products thrive on the concept that people will discover their products on the shelves and buy it on a whim. But if a consumer doesn’t have enough bag space? They might just pass it up entirely, and the sales of the product will never hit a level where they can launch a larger marketing campaign, and expand their brand. If small products like that don’t sell well, places won’t even stock them. Those small products, never making headway, will never be sold that much by stores since they just don’t sell. It kills small companies. Certainly souvenir shops won’t sell nearly as many products that can’t fit in the standard tourist’s pocket. I know if I were going to Disneyland, I wouldn’t carry three empty bags with me through all the rides till I was done with the thrills and decided to buy some souvenirs. I’d just buy a fridge magnet after I was done with the roller-coasters and be done with it. I’m not going to sacrifice my enjoyment and comfort just under the assumption I *might* buy something, and I doubt many people will. I mean, I own several belongings I never would have planned on buying, but bought none the less. But if I had to lug them around with me at a mall, amusement park or just on a walk with friends? I don’t think I would own most of what I’ve bought from stores on an “impulse buy”. I’d have more money, sure, but companies would be hurting, sales would be a bit tougher, and distributors would have to deal with mounted complaints on having to buy bags and worse yet spend money on the more expensive “Reusable” bags, and then have to give money to the government every time they sell a bag to someone. It’s an awful measure, that changes how people live and companies work. It hurts innovation and discourages new products.
To be clear, none of these measures are great. In fact they’re terrible. They cut at people’s incomes, they make the populus generally more depressed and less functional, and companies struggle to get by as people just aren’t in a position to buy random products as much. It changes the entire playing field of California, and it does it just enough they won’t even notice till it’s too late, and companies are closing doors while others thrive in a low-competition environment. They won’t notice till everyone else notices they’re a lot poorer, and then the idiots will be asking to tax the rich more, and surely put forth stupider measures.
I’ll also give a shout out to the other silly amendments that passed, including needing a background check to buy ammo, because criminals not only buy their guns legally, but if they don’t they then buy the ammo legally, obviously. They also passed an amendment to make Medi-cal (Nationalized Medicine for California, or at least a way to pay for the federal funding for medicine) more restrictive in how funds are diverted because (surprise!) they’ve been diverting funds from this fee to the general state balance. This measure still costs the state a billion annually, which means California has to continue taxing people to make up for the billion to run the program. Then there’s an amendment on campaign spending and how it should be restricted, basically giving California officials the ability to overturn Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission on a state level. Basically another attack on the idea of companies acting like people, which is a whole other issue, but the amendment is very poorly written, and seems to give favoritism to Unions. The only positive I can give really, other than passing an amendment to legalize weed (Thank God, hopefully all the Californians move back now) , is that the state has to get voter approval before they can issue more than $2 billion in public infrastructure bonds, which would require a tax hike and additional fees. However I can see getting around that very easily, so it’s sort of a meaningless amendment.
All in all, California is strangling itself as much as it can, I assume because it’s into that sort of thing, the sick f*ck. As I see them restrict and regulate more, I can’t help to think- Why do we need them? F*ck it, they’re plastering #Calexit all over the place, I figure- why not? Let them leave the Union. They need us far more than we need them. They’ll find, of course, that without the water we in Colorado are forced to give them right now, that they’ll experience a drought like no other. We could negotiate water rights- but nah, it’s about time they learn how the world works, the hard way. Let them destroy themselves with their own policies, and then we can let that serve as a lesson to everyone else on why literally all these measures are terrible. We’ll take them back, maybe, if they’ve learned their lesson in ten years.
In the meantime, they can put a reusable plastic bag over their head, stick a pipe up their bum, and tax off the top 3% of their head, in the hopes that will somehow make them more intelligent.