Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More Money than Brains

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In an effort to up the economy, Russia's government has issued calls to the public to drink more and smoke more. It appears that the government's brilliant new scheme to keep the economy afloat is to introduce skyrocketing excise tax (known in North America as the 'sin' tax) on cigarettes and alcohol. It's expected that revenue from these tax sources will help support social programs and other much needed services to the public provided through government funds.

This is a classic example of a group of people with more money than brains being entrusted to make decisions that affect the population that they seem clueless to provide for. Russia is already the centre of the world's billionnaires, with more billionnaires than any other nation, the highest property prices in the world in Moscow and the famous KHL, the Kontinental Hockey League which offers multi-million, multi-year contracts of the likes that caused the famous NHL lockout. It's no wonder that their economy is suffering because of a widening gap between the ultra rich and the poor and that they're unable to balance the books.

The Russian economy is probably the most similar to the feudal age of any other nation's economy today. The staggering wealth of the chosen few oligarchs and their numerous inventive tax evasions and breaks is costing the country dearly, but the proposed solution is looking worse than the current problem.

You cannot create new taxes on smoking and alcohol, encourage the masses to indulge themselves to death and then offer them the social programs to help them in return. Those social programs would not be necessary if the people weren't encouraged to drop into addiction in the first place. Furthermore, the genuises in the seats of power didn't stop to consider what the costs of lowered productivity from sick and drunken workers would do to the economy, or the costs of increased accidents. They also didn't consider what would happen if these same people dropped into debts in an effort to subsidize their habits. They are familiar with foreclosure in Russia, are they not?

The worst consequence of this type of degeneration is the harm that it does to the people themselves. Addiction rips families apart, drains bank accounts, causes hardworking people to lose their jobs and homes and alienates them from the rest of society as they sink further and further into debt and despair.

Now, to be fair, Russia is more than familiar with both debt and despair, given the cruelty of past regimes and the two world wars. They're not exactly known as the sunshine nation and there's already a solid base of both smokers and vodka swillers within the country. But the fact that the government wants to take advantage of these people by digging further into their pockets for tax money and also wants to push them harder to the brink of substance dependency, is morally despicable and
socially irresponsible.

What kind of government exploits their nation's pain by taking unfair advantage of the things that they turn to for comfort in tough times? And what kind of government encourages vices that could lead to peoples' deaths, only to offer them the services that might help them later? Isn't this like Thomas More's Utopia, where a society creates thieves and then imprisons them?

I think the real solution for Russia is to drop the cigarettes, limit the alcohol and get physically healthy fast. Then their government will be forced to support more of them longer, as they get healthy, lean and mean. And while quitting can be hard, just sit and think of all the money that the government won't get and quitting may be the sweetest thing you've ever done.

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