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Quote of the Week

Usually our quotes of the week come from fresh op-eds or commentaries that extol the virtues of consumer freedom. But today's quote dates back to 1859 when political philosopher John Stuart Mill published his famous treatise On Liberty. Mill's theoretical argument that government should intrude in someone's life only if he or she harms another has echoed throughout time. But what might surprise you is that Mill also directly addressed some of the very sin tax and prohibition issues that are relevant today. Here Mill refutes the idea of a tax on "stimulants" — most closely meaning beer and alcohol, but also applicable to caffeine, soda, fast food, and everything else against which the food nannies crusade:

To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained, is a measure differing only in degree from their justifiable prohibition; and would be justifiable only if that were justifiable. Every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price; and to those who do, it is a penalty laid on them for gratifying a particular taste. Their choice of pleasures, and their mode of expanding their income, after satisfying their legal and moral obligations to the State and to individuals, are their own concern, and must rest with their own judgment.

And what does Mill think of such prohibitions? This is where he really shines:

The limitation in number, for instance, of beer and spirit houses, for the express purpose of rendering them more difficult of access, and diminishing the occasions of temptation, not only exposes all to an inconvenience because there are some by whom the facility would be abused, but is suited only to a state of society in which the labouring classes are avowedly treated as children or savages, and placed under an education of restraint, to fit them for future admission to the privileges of freedom.

Amen. We imagine if Mill were alive today, he'd have a harsh word or two for the Los Angeles City Council.

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