Supply-siders, led by Arthur Laffer, have made the case that taxes affect behavior — a proposition rejected by the Obama Administration until now. In a closed-door meeting at the White House, Vice-President Biden endorsed a new tax on violence, a move that would force film producers, writers and software developers to reconsider the material they are creating. In essence, Mr. Biden is conceding that a higher tax would impede development and encourage creators to move their energies toward other endeavors.
According to participants in the meeting, the vice president endorsed evangelical preacher Franklin Graham’s proposal to tax movies, books and video games that glorify guns. Biden wrapped his arms around the proposal, telling the group that there is “no restriction on the ability to do that, there’s no legal reason why they couldn’t.”
But there is a clear problem with the proposal. It’s unconstitutional on its face.
The United States Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the First Amendment of the Constitution protects words and speech that includes violence. It is violent acts, or their inducement, that is not protected. In June 2011, Justice Antonine Scalia wrote an opinion striking down California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to minors. Scalia noted that violent video games were being singled out, identifying a number of children’s literature features brutal imagery. Hansel and Gretel baked their captor in an oven, Scalia notes, while other children savagely killed Piggy in “The Lord of the Flies.”
Scalia wrote that: “This is not to say that minors’ consumption of violent entertainment has never encountered resistance. In the 1800’s, dime novels depicting crime and “penny dreadfuls” (named for their price and content) were blamed in some quarters for juvenile delinquency … When motion pictures came along, they became the villains instead.” Today, it’s video games that get singled out for scrutiny.
A tax on violence would force government officials to tax “Call of Duty” and its scenes based upon the D-Day invasion of France as it would the movie “Saving Private Ryan” for showing similar imagery. A tax would be imposed on the content of the works and is clearly violative of the constitution.
With the White House in the back pocket of Hollywood, it is unlikely that such a scheme will see the light of day. However, it will be an interesting debate when the GOP calls for tax cuts and the White House claims such a move won’t affect the economy. Chalk this one up to Mr. Laffer.