Saturday, August 18, 2007

But It's Tax Free!

It's Texas's Tax Free Weekend today and tomorrow. Let the rejoicing begin! For those of you who don't know what this is, in recent years, the Texas Legislature has made one weekend a year (in August, right before school starts) sales tax free for most clothing items priced under $100. I have not cruised the malls today; but in years past, they have been absolute mob scenes during Tax Free Weekend. Why? Not charging sales tax amounts, in Houston, to an 8.25% off sale. Any store that ran a sale of less than 20% off would be laughed at. Why do people go bonkers for an 8.25% sale? I don't quite understand it.

One of the themes that Patrick O'Brian returns to again and again in his Aubrey/Maturin novels about the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars is how upstanding, dependable sailors who knew their duty would get a piratical gleam in their eye when Captain Aubrey's ship was chasing a potential prize. Almost every man, O'Brian said, loved to get something for nothing, and taking a prize was the easiest way for a sailor to get something for nothing. It didn't matter how much effort he had to expend or how close he came to death to claim his prize. It was the fact that he was getting something for nothing that so thrilled him. Perhaps it's the same sort of thing with the Tax Free Weekend. Sure, it may only be an 8.25% off sale, but in buying tax-free merchandise, you're getting one over on the government. It may be possible to get comparable merchandise for less money and effort at other times, but doing so would not have the added benefit of shafting the government, which, just like piracy, appeals to even the solidest citizens.

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