by Robert J. Collins

Gather around, children, for Sweet Old Bob’s economics les­son. (“The SOB is talking about things way over his head again,” is the cry heard from close friends and mortal enemies alike.)

We all know that taxes create a revenue stream for what we call “government.” With that revenue stream, people involved in the “government thing”—normal souls like you and me—have the wherewithal to provide services and infrastructure for the greater good of the entire citizenry (and not incidentally to provide themselves with personal income for all their efforts in our behalf.)

I can handle that. Without the government, would my local friends and neighbors stop what we’re doing and build a wonder­ful new train station (with the handicapped toilets up a half-flight of stairs)? No, we would not. Would we labor for five years to widen the road between here and Shinjuku (where the city government is)? No, we would not.

See? It takes an entity like the government to pull it all together and do these good things for the greater good of the entire citizen­ry. Taxes create the revenue stream for all this.

Essentially (a modifying word meaning the author has no idea to what extent the following is true), the taxation has been based upon income (including property deals and inheritance), spending (the beloved consump­tion tax) and virtual positioning (residence taxes). Fine. It is, as we choose to accept it, one of the necessary curses of civilization.

I am more interested in exam­ining the pros and cons of what are often called “sin taxes.” I don’t know how much they actu­ally contribute to the revenue stream, but I want to see more of them. (And not because I’m against sin—in fact, I’m rather in favor of it, if the truth were known.)

The thing is, I would think that we, as members of the citi­zenry, would be able to vote on which products and activities— or sins—we wish to see taxed. It is not a question of revenue; it is a question of making life a whole lot more pleasant by making the products and activities we don’t like economically unfeasible. (The revenue can always be returned to us later by the gov­ernment in plain brown envelopes.)

For example, in the States cigarettes fall into the “sin” cate­gory and are taxed to the point where something that costs nine cents to make is sold to the con­sumer for nine dollars. Fine. I can handle that. It’s probably a factor in reducing smoking. But I would like to vote against the idea of doing the same thing to beer (to pick two items marginally related in some people’s minds).

Here in Japan, I would think that because Tokyo is such a civi­lized place during Golden Week, summer O-bon vacations and the New Year holidays, a surprise tax should be levied on all returning vehicles after those trips outside the city. As we all know, there are 61,064 streets and roads leading into Tokyo, so it would only take 183,182 people to man the check­points (assuming three persons per checkpoint—one to collect money, one to waive the orange stick and one to get tea.) Last month’s downsized staff from Mitsubishi could handle that and at a ¥500,000 tax per vehicle, let’s say, they would pay for them­selves. And it might reduce traffic inside the city.

Little girl voices broadcast through the airwaves should be heavily taxed—perhaps as much as ¥1,000,000 per incident— unless, of course, the little girl voices emanate from the mouth and throat of a bona fide little girl. Someone around 10. Or at least one without breasts. (Shoot­ing would be preferable, of course, but let’s stick to taxes.)

The tax on bicycles illegally parked at train and subway sta­tions will take a week to set up, but it’s simple. All people with bicycles in Japan will have seven days to “brand” their names and addresses on their handlebars. After that, it’s just a matter of officials walking around taking down names and sending ¥250,000 invoices to violators’ homes, Failure to make immedi­ate payment doubles the tax— daily.

Hair. I went to meet a col­league last week in a hotel coffee shop. I arrived first. I was the only gaijin in the joint. I was seat­ed in the most prominent spot— next to the windows though which everyone absently gazed. I waited 45 minutes. My colleague never showed. I got up to leave and there, seated by himself two tables away, was my colleague.

“Arrah, whoo, you’re here?!” my colleague observed, spilling coffee in his lap. He hadn’t been able to find me. It seems, accord­ing to him, we gaijin no longer stand out “because everyone has strange hair now.” I don’t care about that, but some things do work better aesthetically—blonde hair on a blue eyed Nordic type, or red hair on a Mick. (No disrespect, but you know what I mean.) The hair tax would start at ¥5,000—per day.

I must lie down now and think up more taxes. It would be easier to do if that sound truck outside stopped serenading this entire prefecture with 1930s mili­tary marches.