Convoluted Logic, Sin Tax, and Small Business

cigar1It’s a balmy 70 degrees here in America’s Heartland today so I decided to move things outside. I also decided to treat myself to a Starbucks coffee and a good cigar. Does life get any better?

Let me say at the outset that I’m not what you’d call an avid smoker. The fact that I’m enjoying my first cigar of 2009 on March 5th is a pretty good indication of that. But I do enjoy treating myself to a good stogy once-in-a-while. My lovely wife informed me long ago that cigars are a pleasure best enjoyed outdoors (and I don’t disagree) so warm weather inspires me to light up.

Visiting my neighborhood retailer,(a local merchant, of course) I noticed a number of signs warning smokers that, as part of the “stimulus package” a huge tobacco tax increase is going into effect on April 1. “Best stock up now” the signs said, while prices are “low”. I haven’t thought prices were low in a long, long time, but I suppose it’s all relative.

This is not a rant about politics, or about smoking, but rather about common sense, or the lack thereof. There’s nothing new about a “sin tax”. Lawmakers have been using them for eons on the theory that the majority of people will support a tax that doesn’t hit them directly. Tobacco, alcohol, gas-guzzling cars, and other non-necessities are fair game in tough economic times.

But here’s where the common sense part comes in. This new levy is said to serve two purposes. First, the additional revenue is supposed to be used to fund health-care programs. Second, the prohibitive cost of a carton of Camels, or a box of Macanudos is supposed to discourage smoking.

Now, I’m no economist, but it seems to me that there’s something wrong with the logic here. If smokers suddenly switch to chewing gum, doesn’t that mean that there won’t be any money for objective number one? Won’t they have to put an excise tax on Juicy Fruit?

This reminds me of the business owner who says that business stinks so he’s going to cut back on his advertising. A + B (or A – B) may equal C, but life is rarely that simple. The world is full of Ds, Es, and Fs that all have an impact on the equation.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Government may be a lot of things, but it’s rarely a good example of how to run a business.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish my cigar while I can still afford it.

Back Up Your Social Media

It’s a beautiful day in the Heartland so I decided to take a break and wash my car.  While I was cleaning off the muck I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, The Podcast Sisters.  The episode in question is number 069.  There are no shownotes on the web site, so if you want to hear it,you’ll have to download the audio via iTunes or you can find it at the Blubrry Podcast site.

Anna Farmery and Krishna De are discussing the topic “Is It Too Late to Join the Social Media Revolution.”  In the leadup to the title discussion the ladies bring up an interesting point that’s worth some serious consideration.  As you know, I”m a serious advocate for the use of small media tools by small business.  But as we make our way through this difficult worldwide  economy (Anna is in the UK.  Krishna is in Ireland.) we have to be careful of how much of our information resides solely on social media sites.

What would the effect be on our business if one of these sites were to go out of business.  Your network of 3,000 twitter contacts won’t be much good to you if twitter suddenly goes away, unless you have the information backed up.  twitter is particularly vulnerable since they sell no ads.  But there’s no reason to think that any site, with the possible exception of Google, is 100% rock solid.

As we transition more and more of our business activity to third-party sites, it might be a good time to look into the possitility of exporting your contact lists, friend lists, etc. to your own hard drive, just in case.

The SBA Gets Into Podcasting

While we all wait for the government’s stimulus package to start healing the economy, here’s something from the Small Business Administration that might really help your business.

The SBA has posted a series of podcasts on their website covering topics like “Marketing to the Federal Government“, “Getting Your Small Business Ready for Tax Season“, financing, and filling out various government forms.  You can listen to the programs right on your computer, or you can download them to your iPod or other mp3 player and listen to them at home, in your car, or even while you’re out jogging.

You can also subscribe to the SBA’s rss feed for updates.  The agency promises to provide new content monthly.  Check it out.  It’s free. (Well, it’s not really free, but at least you’ve already paid for it.)