Why a Tax on Plastic Surgery Isn't Sexist

Michael was a man. (Mostly.) Your argument is invalid.
Washington Democrats are proposing a whole raft of sin taxes to bridge a monstrous budget gap. Including a tax on the sin of vanity.

Part of the House's plan to raise $918 million includes a tribute on elective plastic surgery. A cut Erica Barnett at PubliCola calls a "discriminatory tax on women."

For proof, Barnett tosses out a relevant stat: 91-percent of all plastic surgery patients are women. Many of whom cite age discrimination as a reason for going under the knife.

On the word "cite," Barnett provides a link to an article presumably meant to back up her logic. (You can read it for yourself here.) Unfortunately for her, the proof she offers is weak, and only highlights the holes in her argument.

Entitled "Older job-seekers find plastic surgery gives them an edge," the Newark Star-Ledger piece is about how some middle-aged workers are turning to Botox and tummy tucks to help them succeed in a tough economy. Emphasis on the word "some."

Anecdote-heavy stories like this are known as trend pieces. Their existence is defined by a lack of hard evidence. And they are the very antithesis of a solid foundation on which to build an argument.

Barnett probably knows this. Better yet, she willfully ignores the fact that at the article's core is an older man who thinks getting rid of his crow's feet will make him a more attractive job candidate.

Barnett knows how silly it is to argue that 55-and-over women are getting plastic surgery in order to get a toehold in a difficult job market. Rather than, say, to look better and, by extension, feel better about themselves.

Older workers tend to get laid off because they cost more. Younger workers will work for less. It doesn't always happen that way, but that's often the case.

Plastic surgery is a choice. As is the choice to buy your water in a plastic bottle, rather than getting it out of the tap. (Another sin tax in the making.)

That it happens to be a choice made more often by women doesn't mean a thing. As PubliCola's commenters have pointed out, more men than women smoke cigarettes. Does that make the proposed one-dollar-a-pack increase on Marlboros discriminatory too?

I'm sure I could craft a shoddy Gender Studies 101 argument in favor of that idea. Just as Barnett comes to rely on the idea that the plastic surgery tax is a way of making women pay for trying to live up to a "porn-star ideal."

(Smoking is a shortcut to the macho ideal propagated by society. Smokers are more likely to be men. Therefore taxing cigs is discriminatory. Et cetera, et cetera.)

It's not a sin to think there are failings in the Democratic plan to raise extra cash. But as Barnett shows, it is a sin to think there's something discriminatory about placing an imposition on image enhancement.

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