A Meat Tax Is Probably A Good Idea
This past tax day, PETA rolled out an unappetizing idea: a meat tax. But when we dug into the details of their proposal, we found that it's more than just trolling.
Goat meat photo by Creative Commons user Biswarup Ganguly
On tax day of this year, the animals rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) revived a hilarious proposal from 2011: Put a tax on meat. The idea is a little like something you would come up with if you were a candidate for office secretly trying not to get elected. "My fellow Americans, I promise to put a tax on, uh, meat! And then, ban the NFL and Beyoncé. Vote for me!" It's a nonstarter outside of maybe the vegan wonderland of Portland, and even those folks probably wouldn't go for it.
PETA president Ingrid Newkirk has acknowledged that the organization's activities are sometimes just in pursuit of "ink and airtime," so it's safe to assume this was meant to rile up anti-tax crusaders like Grover Norquist, the current US president, or, say, your dad. The folks at PETA have also proposed banning women from attending a buffalo wing festival because chicken ostensibly shrinks baby dicks, and they tried to fat shame women into being vegans—to name just a couple of recent examples.
But upon closer inspection, there's more to the meat tax—10 cents per poundof "chicken, turkey, pig, cow, fish, and other animal flesh sold in grocery stores and restaurants"—than just pissing off dads.
"I actually don't think it's a bad idea," said Dean Baker, co-founder of the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research, and one of the few economists to correctly predict the 2007 housing crisis. To put it in economics jargon, Baker said, "it seems reasonable to say there's externalities associated with farm animals, so why don't we incorporate those into the cost of the product."
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