With the decision last week about Obamacare, in which Chief Justice Roberts defined the penalties associated with the individual mandate as a ‘tax’ (if you don’t purchase healthcare of some sort, there’s a penalty), there has been a lot of jockeying back and forth over whether this should be called a tax (Romney, true to form, called it a tax years ago, and now is waffling. Shocking, I know).
This is stupid, and the defenders of Romney/Obamacare are doing themselves no favors by stumbling over this term–or even calling it a penalty.
It’s a fine. That’s all. The Boston Public Library, in 2011, collected over $12,000 in late return fines. No one called these taxes. If you get cited for a misdemeanor, it’s not a tax (even, if in reality, municipalities often use these to generate revenue). You did something you’re not supposed to do, so you pay a fine. And fine is a much better word than penalty–it gets the point across in one syllable, while simultaneously framing the activity (in this case, off-loading your insurance costs onto others) as a bad thing to do.
This is yet another reason, albeit a small one, why can’t have even mediocre things.