Monday, August 31, 2009

Excise Tax on Wine Should Be Reduced

In addition to being a brilliant statesman, scientist, farmer and a myriad other things, Thomas Jefferson was the greatest wine connoisseur of the 18th Century, not just in America but in the entire world. While serving as Minister to France in the 1780s, Jefferson toured all the important French wine regions, as well as some of most significant wine producing regions in Germany and Italy. The careful notes he kept on this trip reveal his astonishing knowledge and skill as a wine-taster.

During his years in the White House, President Jefferson famously invited members of Congress to the White House for weekly dinners. The wines he served at these gatherings, along with the wonderful food prepared by his French chef, kept both Republican friends and Federalist enemies coming coming back to his table. While talk of political matters was apparently discouraged at these meals, we can imagine the positive effect they had on achieving Jefferson's political goals simply be building goodwill between erstwhile adversaries. And although he drank wine every day, he claims never to have been intoxicated in his life.

Contrary to prevailing opinion, then and now, Jefferson did not think that wine was a drink for the upper class. Indeed, he thought the high cost of wine as compared to beer or liquor was a major social problem, because it contributed to drunkenness and therefore violence among the lower classes. He therefore called for a reduction of excise taxes on wine and an increase in excise taxes on gin, so as to make wine relatively less expensive and therefore less expensive to common people.

As Jefferson put it: "No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage."

One thing Jefferson would love about the modern world is the widespread consumption of wine by members of the middle class, and the easy availability of wine to all members of society. Truth be told, the cheapest bottle of wine available in a typical grocery store is possibly superior in quality to the best wine Jefferson himself ever consumed. American consumption of wine still lags behind European countries, but it is increasing every year. This would please Jefferson and he would be calling on us to do what we can to further this social trend.

For a standard bottle of wine, with an alcohol level of 14% or less, the federal excise tax is $0.21. For a "naturally sparkling" bottle of wine, the federal excise tax is $0.67. These taxes should be reduced or eliminated. As Jefferson realized so long ago, there are clear social benefits to encouraging the consumption of wine over other alcoholic beverages, and we should do whatever we can to do so.

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