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Arthur Schaper: Victimless Crimes in the Bay State

Friday, January 10, 2014


Victimless crimes make enough trouble without the government getting involved, believes Arthur Schaper.

Vices like smoking and gambling (and in a marginal sense, prostitution) are often termed “victimless” crimes by criminologists, since the individuals who engage in these activities do so willingly, despite the societal consequences of the behaviors, or the communal opprobrium attached to them. Despite the Puritan roots of the New England scene, smoking and gambling (and even the world's oldest profession) enjoy their place in the public square.

They have also faced (or embraced) state lawmakers’ attempts to regulate (or frustrate) their practice.

Pay up to light up

Let's talk about smoking.

Granted, this habit is not illegal, yet skirting the excise taxes on the product is a crime, and New England has some of the highest cigarette taxes in the United States. Massachusetts has the dubious distinction (or dysfunction) of the second highest in the country, going from $2.51 per pack to $3.51 in 2013.

Why raise the tax, you may ask?

Raise more revenue, and charge individuals for doing damage to their bodies, since with every chain smoker there is a never-ending chain of healthcare costs. The range of cancers which afflict smokers alone should discourage people from lighting up in the first place. Besides, smokers will not quit easily, and at least the state can take advantage of this sure source of revenue. Yet these financial forces to curb or change behavior never work. Whether they acknowledge it or not, the progressive powers that be in the Bay State (spiriting up the sentiments of their Puritan ancestors) insist on ignoring the bankrupt folly of human nature to change itself, at least by force.

Unintended consequences

Simply put, whenever Mommy, Daddy, or Big Brother Big Government says “No!” to any negative behavior or habit, one can rest assured that the very prohibition will transform into a more irresistible seduction. “Just Say No!” in the 1980s was a no-go then, just as the Prohibition Movement not only failed to drive down liquor sales, but actually fermented organized crime and corruption.

What have been the results of the cigarette taxes taking more? Never letting a crisis go to waste, Massachusetts’s Illegal Tobacco Commission discovered that the commonwealth was missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. Of course, besides the black market, there is “Smoke For Less and Die” New Hampshire and its much lower excise tax.

Breitbart also reported earlier this week that high taxes have created a lower, deeper black market for tobacco products. Focusing primarily on Highest Cig Tax New York, Mike Flynn revealed the obvious: people will find the best way to get the best product for the lesser price, even if it means breaking the law to do so. Based on results from a study by the RTI international non-profit research group, these cigarette taxes disproportionately hurt the poor and working class users, yet the same researchers suggested a “track and trace” program to wipe out the black market.

Instead of more government oversight, Beacon Hill should repeal the rising cigarette tax in a cloud of smoke, just as the pushed away the computer cloud levies last year.

Now about casinos...

Whether rolling the dice, counting the cards, or tipping your hand for the better team, gambling has gained a greater respectability, in spite of the connections with organized crime and higher levels of traffic/deviance associated with casinos. How did Worcesterites feel about a new gaming house in their city? GoLocal reported that they endorsed casino expansion in a non-binding referendum. But where are the casinos today? The city and the builders could not reach agreements on where to build and what benefits the casinos would ultimately bestow. Critics further alleged that Worcester gambling would have catered primarily to locals instead of bringing in national and international tourism. Most of all, activists opposed to the casinos brought up the long-term detriments resulting from gambling establishments, including the harm to local businesses catering to residents, who would have less discretionary income to spend.

In other words: sounded like a good gamble, but no one counted the chips before they were played.

Earlier this week, The New York Times (all the news that fits) assessed the grand government schemes of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and his Democratic card players, who had bet that more casinos would mean more jobs, tourism, and revenue. Two years ago, Beacon Hill headed the beckoning call of casinos, since Connecticut and even Rhode Island were enjoying tourist profits from their gaming. Like all government schemes, Massachusetts's casino plan sounded good in discussion, it looked good on paper, yet it came to no good in practice. “Let’s play the slots!” residents declared, “But not in my backyard!”

Conflicts of interest turned up between the Chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and Corporate leaders of selected gaming conglomerates. MGM and Wynn sought locales with higher socioeconomic metrics, yet residents in those same target regions more often resist casinos. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe gained federal approval for casinos on their land, yet the future of gaming in Massachusetts may end with a 2014 voter-approved repeal.

Whatever one’s views, victimless crimes create more headaches for those who choose to indulge, yet only get worse when government gets involved.


Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance. Follow him on Twitter @ArthurCSchaper, reach him at [email protected], and read more at Schaper's Corner and As He Is, So Are We Ministries.


Related Slideshow: 13 Biggest Blunders of 2013

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The episode undid a decade of positive work in promoting tourism. It might have been a good idea for the Mayor to have told the Governor to take the body some where else.  Hard to believe Tom Menino allowing a the invert to have taken place.
Worcester Police announced Thursday that the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev has been taken from the city -- and has been "entombed."
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Statement on Worcester Police Department Facebook Page:
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