Monday, July 26, 2010

Casinos make the case for high levels of taxation

I spent the last four days in the air conditioned wonderland of a casino (the Rio) in Las Vegas at the annual Netroots Nation convention. Many people love casinos, myself included.  But I never gamble (as they guy in the elevator said to me yesterday, "The only way to win is not to play.")  I love casinos because they are freaking nice -- gorgeous innovative architecture, air conditioned, pretty lights, good music, and extra oxygen pumped in to make everyone feel better.

Washing my hands one afternoon in the casino's restroom -- complete with high ceilings, granite countertops and a dedicated employee to keep it clean, I got to thinking... it seems to me that casinos make the case for much higher levels of taxation in society. 

Because the REASON that casinos are so nice is that they tax the hell out of people. Going to Vegas is like putting your money into a mutual fund that is guaranteed to lose at least .2% of your money (blackjack) and may cost you as much as 29% of your money (Keno).  But people LOVE Las Vegas -- in part because all of our losing then leads to great works of architecture (replicas of Paris, New York, and Egypt for example) and cheap breakfast buffets (as one side note -- the Rio now offers an ALL YOU CAN EAT ALL DAY buffet at 7 different casinos for the one low price of $39.99). 

In fact that's the reason that palaces in France are so nice and the reason why so many people want to visit France as a tourist destination -- because a former French government taxed its people at a high rate and built great public works that have lasted for centuries.

Interestingly, Vegas casinos also tax the rich at a very high rate.  The whales (like Tiger Woods or Jerry Buss) with their private jets, limos, and secret entrances to the casinos end up leaving much more cash behind than the average gambler.  

The strangest thing about Las Vegas is that people actually seem to enjoy losing.  It's like the purifying ritual of risk and loss taps into some deep limbic desire of Thanatos, for loss and rebirth. 

So I guess all the IRS needs to do in order to become more popular is to making paying taxes more fun and exciting!  Perhaps they could add scantily clad go-go girls dancing on the customer service desks at the various IRS offices while pumping in extra oxygen and 1990s dance hits?  Also, the IRS could merge with various state lotteries (which after all are just voluntary tax systems structured as games) -- such that once a year someone's name is pulled out of a hat and his/her entire tax bill is forgiven!

But all kidding aside, the fact is, casinos show that under some conditions, people voluntarily embrace high levels of taxation.  Las Vegas involves something of a trade -- casinos give inexpensive food, inexpensive accommodations, and lovely public works in return for high levels of taxation (gambling).  I think the same is true for the public sector in a way -- if people feel that they are getting a high level of service -- health care (not just health insurance), education, and well-designed public works projects, they will be much more willing to pay taxes at a higher rate.

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