When it comes to tax relief, I am a committed Friedmanite: I embrace the teaching of the late great Milton Friedman, a Nobel laureate in economics, who often declared that he was "in favor of any tax cut, under any circumstances, in any way, in any form whatsoever." Friedman's premise was that the best way to curb raging government spending was to curb the government's income, and that the best way to do that was to reduce taxes.
So I suppose I should be glad that the Massachusetts Legislature has designated next Saturday and Sunday as the Commonwealth's annual sales-tax holiday. Two days of tax-free shopping, a chance to buy that new freezer or computer or necklace — or simply to stock up on school supplies, toiletries, and batteries — without having to pay the state's usual 6.25 percent levy on purchases: What's not to like? If experience is any guide, stores and malls will be thronged with shoppers, and $25 million that would otherwise have enriched the state Treasury will remain in the pockets of private citizens. It's all good, right?
Tax-free weekends are little more than a stunt, a dose of fiscal snake oil that cures no ills, but merely provides momentary relief from the pains of overtaxation. The yearly respites from sales taxes are popular, and politicians are happy to flaunt them as evidence of their taxpayer-friendly bona fides. "This is an economic win-win for families, businesses, and the Commonwealth alike," state Senator Michael Moore exulted after last year's tax holiday was enacted.
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