Fine-Print Tax – An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

Thank you for your service. I am proud to have voted for you and am writing this open letter in the hopes that you will address the issues of income inequality, predatory corporate ideology, and an ever-cumbersome quality of life for majority of America – and coincidentally, or consequently, the world.

I noticed something recently; the cost of living has tripled since 1986. I was four at that time; the cost of my favorite orange Popsicle has tripled in the last 28 years. Today fewer kids can afford it, it has shrunk in size, and corporate profit margins have never been higher.

Interestingly, this Popsicle inflation I speak of has happened in India. But eerily similar compounding inflations have happened in America. Gasoline in middle-America – Danville, Illinois – cost 98 cents in 2000; it has more than tripled. And again, corporate profit margins have never been higher.

I see nothing wrong with capitalist progress and the ‘free market’ economy, nor with the ultra-rich who set trends, hike up prices, and predatorily lure the masses and their wallets. But I do have a problem with the manner in which it happens – the lay person gets tricked by the corporate machine.

Specifically, we get tricked by fine-prints –manipulative advertising and marketing strategies geared to do one thing: grow profit margins for the corporate engine. Fine-prints come in all forms, shapes and sizes. The most infamous among them, sub-prime mortgage fine-prints that nearly sank the global ‘free market’ in 2008-2009. Other fine-prints are less obvious. For example; pricing gasoline at $3.99, and then nearly tripling the font of the dollar amount. This creates an optical and mathematical illusion that a gallon of gas costs three dollars when it actually costs much closer to four.

A more tortuous example is selling food and drink items in flashy packaging that attracts the consumer to the brand, while miniaturizing health hazard warning signs like “Contains Phenylalanine” or “Products contain added Monosodium Glutamate – Not Recommended for Infants below 12 months.” There are some things fundamentally wrong about this. First, it distracts the consumer with advertising gimmicks while practically hiding potentially crucial health information in plain sight. Second, and more importantly, it places a burden on the lay person to find and know about those chemicals and their effects.

You once famously said, “It’s Arithmetic.” You were absolutely right; everything is arithmetic, a set of mathematical calculations. Except, fine-prints create a second, illusory mathematical parallel universe. It makes lay people believe they have bargained for and received a much different product than they wanted, let alone needed. And a father of three earning minimum wage, with a wife taking care of the kids, cannot afford to believe he paid thirty dollars for gas when he actually paid closer to forty.

Nor can a single mother working two minimum-wage jobs afford to take unpaid vacation days to take her daughter to the doctor because she was too overwhelmed to read all sides of the packaging of her daughter’s lunch sandwich. That duty that fine-print imposes on the average lay citizen is villainously inconspicuous and omnipresent in the corporate landscape. And this all happens for one reason: To increase corporate profit margins. Coincidentally – or intentionally – the surplus fine-prints create make the ultra-rich richer while hundreds and thousands of people lose their homes, develop severe illnesses, and cannot make ends meet.

I am not saying the big, bad ‘fine-print’ wolf is the only contributor to a tougher and more stressful way of life for an increasing number of people. But I am saying, it has a major role to play. So in the face of this problem, I would very much like you to discuss the pros and cons of legislating a tax on fine-print.

All businesses that use fine-print in their advertisements, legal documents and product labels must pay a tax. The logic: it unreasonably encumbers the fundamental rights of lay citizens to utilize any and all available faculties for the purposes of pursuing life, liberty, and property.

Fine-prints impose an unreasonable burden on the lay citizen to understand and agree to drastically inequitable and complex business contracts when pursuing such fundamental objectives as getting an education, buying a house, buying a car, saving for the future, etc. It creates an unjustifiable duty for people to find, know and understand that the companies they trust put unnecessary harmful chemicals in their food. It fraudulently tricks cash-strapped people into believing they are paying less.

Our government must strive to make resources that promote general welfare and safety of its human citizens more readily available than corporate tax shelters. It must strive to make the lives of its citizens better. A fine-print tax will not tax an individual citizen; it would, however, impose a rightful duty on businesses to streamline their thinking and execution. And coincidentally – or consequently – bring in revenue from upper echelons of the dollar ladder without directly compromising personal fortunes of the ultra-rich. I hope you will consider. I await your public response.




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