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The Dangers of Condescension


It is almost always a mistake to be condescending, but it’s especially a mistake when you don’t know what you’re talking about. Timothy Egan at the New York Times took it upon himself to lecture Senator Ted Cruz (an old friend of mine) about the Internet sales tax two days ago: “Logic, thy name is not Ted Cruz. The very junior senator from Texas is a well-credentialed windbag. . .” The whole piece is written in this vein.

Egan doesn’t like Cruz’s argument that Texas businesses shouldn’t have to collect taxes to send to California or New York. But he’s not well-informed enough about the law to construct an argument against Cruz. He writes,

The Marketplace Fairness Act would allow consumers to buy local, and keep the taxes local, should they wish. Isn’t that what Republicans want? I mean, outside of trying to repeal the 20th century. . . .

[L]et’s say the Internet sales-tax bill becomes law, and Senator Cruz is sitting at home in Houston, doing some online shopping. While buying the latest weapon accessories, he could support Texas values and purchase only from Texas-based retailers, thus ensuring that Texas taxes continue to be spent on their usual things — everything but regulatory oversight of industrial polluters. Wow: choice!

Now, should his wandering shopper’s eye drift toward some product that comes from one of the evil blue states, he would indeed have to contribute in a small way to the welfare of non-Texans.

As Joseph Henchman points out, the bill does not work this way. (I’d like it a lot better if it did.) A Texas consumer who uses the Internet to buy a product from Texas, California, or Illinois under the bill would in each case be paying sales taxes to the government of Texas. The tax goes to the destination state, not the origin state. The Texas consumer is not allowed, in other words, to escape his state’s sales-tax regime by buying a product taxed more lightly somewhere else. The taxes are not kept local if that’s what consumers wish. They’re brought back to the home-state government, period, whatever the consumer wishes.

You can agree with Cruz that Texas businesses should not be forced to collect California sales taxes, or you may disagree. But your opinion ought to be based on what the law actually says and does, especially if you’re going to call other people windbags.


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