Will Cutting Taxes on Booze Actually Kill People?

Don't believe the alarmists.


Booze Reaper
Olena Yakobchuk/Dreamstime

Even in these divisive times, one would have thought that most Americans would raise a glass to news that the tax reform passed by the Senate last week included some sizable tax cuts for craft beer, wine, and spirits producers.

But Vox, which trusts its employees with only two drinks per Christmas party, calls the cuts "a public health disaster." ThinkProgress warns of a "dramatic increase" in alcohol-related deaths. Both outlets rely on calculations from the Brookings Institution's Adam Loomey, who estimates the cuts will cost roughly 1,550 lives, including between 280 and 670 motor-vehicle deaths. "A reduction in excise taxes on alcohol," he says, "will impose a higher cost than we should be willing to pay—the loss of human life."

Despite these morbid warnings, there are good reasons to doubt that we're sacrificing scores of lives for the sake of a cheaper buzz.

Loomey pieces together his figures from papers that themselves piece together their findings from yet more studies looking at the effects of alcohol tax increases in countries ranging from the U.S. to Spain to Finland. These papers come to dramatically different conclusions about the effect of taxes on alcohol-related mortality. One found a doubling of taxes led to a 35 percent reduction in deaths. Another found a less than 5 percent reduction.

One need not be a hardcore skeptic to believe that these aggregates of aggregates tell us little about the effects of the specific excise tax cuts before us.

Parsing out what these tax cuts will look like to the end consumer makes the handwringing look even more ridiculous.

Under the Senate's plan, beer producers would see the rate they pay for the first 60,000 barrels fall from $7 to $3.50 per barrel. (Producers of more than 60,000 barrels would see their per barrel excise tax fall from $18 to $16). Craft distilleries would see a much larger cut, with their rates going from $13.34 per proof gallon to $2.70 for the first 100,000 proof gallons.

Those cuts might sound dramatic, but they don't stack up to much at the retail level. The excise tax on beer would fall from 2 cents per beer to 1 cent. It's the same for the harder stuff, cutting less than $2 off the cost of a craft-distilled fifth of liquor.

It strains credulity to assume that saving a few pennies on a $10 six-pack will lead to otherwise sober motorists getting too drunk to survive their drive home from the bar. Likewise for knocking a few bucks off a $35 bottle of whiskey. And that's assuming the entire tax cut would be passed onto the customer. Brewers and distillers may prefer to spend it hiring more employees, raising wages for their current employees, or buying new equipment.

Julie Verratti, of the Maryland-based Denizens Brewing Company, told me last month that the Senate's excise tax cut on beer would save her business $6,000, saying "that's buying kegs, that's buying tanks, that's paying our employees higher wages."

Despite the overwrought claims of the nanny-staters, allowing small businesses like Verratti's keep more of the money they earn does not have to come at the expense of thousands of lives.

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  1. They could always make up for it on the back end. And by that I mean a tax on butt chugging. HA! No, I actually mean they could up the DUI (DWI) fees.

    1. When I got my DUI in 1992 (or was it 1993?) I thought I got reamed because it cost me about $2500 – 3000 when it was all said and done.

      Now, I hear it’ll cost you about 10 times that much after they’re through with you.

      Not sure how they would up it anymore without taking people’s houses or something.

  2. ThinkProgress warns of a “dramatic increase” in alcohol-related deaths.

    Of course they would say that. Temperance movements have always started with religious zealots wanting to make people more virtuous at the point of a gun.

    And there aren’t more dangerous religious zealots than Marxians, whose brains orbit planet Marx.

    1. It’s not a planet. It’s a black hole so dense and powerful that no freedom can escape.

    2. And they say they aren’t like the early 20th century progressives. Uh huh, sure.

  3. My booze budget is approximately 100% of what I need to spend in order to keep myself in stock, so higher taxes will just make me poorer.

    1. higher taxes will just make me poorer

      But they’ll also help the poor, so for you it’s a wash.

      1. It’s a special economics case of sticky alcoholism.

  4. If this is just for craft brewers and distillers, I doubt it will have much effect one way or another on problem drinkers who probably go for cheap stuff mostly.

    In any case, I don’t want tax policy to be used for social engineering.

    1. In any case, I don’t want tax policy to be used for social engineering.

      Unfortunately there’s an entire end of the political spectrum that believes it’s to be used for just that.

      I remember back in the 90s when… if I recall correctly, Clinton’s sec. of treasury admitted straight out that the tax code was used to set policy, not so much to garner revenue. No one in the media really even noticed.

      1. If by that you mean the Republican and Democratic end.

        I just heard them say with my own ears that we need to give money to the rich so they’ll do socially conscious things like invest and hire people. (And we can’t give money to the poor because they’ll squander it on booze and women.)

        How is that any different? The fact that they’re lying about it?

        1. The first thing that is wrong is the idea that government “gives” money by stealing less of it. The second thing that is wrong is the idea of social engineering, which necessitates government politicians picking winners and losers.

    2. Or like we used to do when I was a “problem drinker” in college/military. Buy a six pack of the best tasting beer, and a couple of cases of crap beer. After drinking the six pack of good shit, you don’t care how crappy the other 2 cases are. And then just “beer bong” or “shotgun” the cheap shit.

      1. I knew a bar owner/tender who used to do that with high priced whiskey and scotch. Pour the cheap stuff into an expensive bottle and after a couple drinks of the expensive stuff, start using that bottle.

        1. Now that’s just shitty.

      2. The cheap shit is usually lower in ABV so you’re also properly hydrating!

  5. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you booze you lose.

    1. Yes but at the time you were speaking to a plastic jug of peppermint schnapps in your hand while you stood in an alley behind Hardee’s at 10:30 in the morning.

      1. Ahh, my old stomping grounds…

  6. Vox Media fired Lockhard Steele for drunken sex harassment. My guess is that Lockhard couldn’t force his will on a puppy. Feminists want an uptight workplace where everyone must be careful around the victim gender.

    My wife had a problem with a groper at SHANNON’S LANDING. She knocked him off his bar stool. She hurt him pretty bad. She is not allowed in this bar anymore. My wife is not a feminist and makes a great turkey dinner.

    1. Your wife sounds like a keeper.

    2. Shannon’s Landing was my nickname in gym class.

  7. It looks like the party of prohibition is going back to their roots. Next on the agenda? Cleaning away all the genetic defectives and inferiors?

  8. Progressives are really just rebranded puritans. Somewhere, someone is having fun, and that cannot be allowed. Don’t believe me? Consider the coincidence of puritans believing in predestination and progressives believing in historicism.

  9. Won’t somebody think of the drunk children?

  10. You might as well raise gas taxes to get people to drive less. Less driving, so less drunk driving.

  11. These people are evil, If we raise the minimum wage as much as some are pushing for the death toll will be enormous. If dropping the price of beer by just a few cents will kill hundreds, imagine the deaths if we give people a extra hundred dollars a month.

  12. Andorra [western Europe] has no alcohol taxes. 7th in the world in alcohol consumption but nowhere close to 7th in alcohol-related problems:

    7. Andorra
    > Alcohol per capita (APC) consumption: 13.8 liters
    > Pct. binge drinking: 4.2% (69th lowest)
    > Pct. of deaths, alcohol-related: 3.9% (77th highest)…..e-world/2/

  13. So if taxing less hurts people, it begs the question about what is the right amount to tax. Surely there is a graph that can tell us where the fewest people are hurt. However, do you believe that ThinkRegress will count those hurt through black market dealings will be counted? If taxes are high enough it will become just like prohibition, but somehow I expect that the associated deaths would be accepted by that crowd.

  14. I have not self control. If they cut taxes on liquor I will drive drunk and kill other and then drink myself to death. Please dear government protect me from myself. (SARC)

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