THE BLOG
01/06/2009 10:30 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Porn Tax, Reconsidered

Back in 2005, CNET wrote: "Jerome Barron, a former Dean of George Washington University Law School" said a porn tax would violate the First Amendment: "You can't use the taxation power as a weapon of censorship." But, suppose one were to consider a "porn tax" simply as a way to raise revenue, rather than as something as sob-sistery as Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln when she proposed a Porn Tax in order to make the internet a "safer place" for children.

God knows we need the money, and most other sinners, like drinkers and smokers, currently pay taxes for their sins. Suppose we didn't impose the tax on porn film producers, since that might raise First Amendment questions, or directly on viewers of "sexually-oriented material". Suppose instead, we taxed the distributors. Would it be too much to insist that every hotel that carries a Pay-Per-View porn channel, and retains a large percentage of the revenue, pay the federal government a dollar for every flick ordered by its guests. Maybe it hurts the hotel's bottom line, but they can always solve the problem by charging one dollar more for the pleasure of seeing dirty movies right in your hotel room.

Local governments need more money right now, even more than the feds do. They can't print it, but they do retain the power to license cable systems in their community. Why can't they ask for a dollar every time one of their cable Pay-Per-View viewers orders an X-rated video? The cable system lists Pay-Per-View usage separately on its cable bills and could easily account for and promptly pay our struggling local municipalities. I think the taxation is reasonable and the collection does not place an undue burden on the cable system--of course, if the cable system thinks it does, it can also try and pass the costs on to its viewers.

The federal government might also be eligible to impose a tax on cable systems. The government taxed movie tickets in 1942. Before the Second World War, the Saturday afternoon ticket at my neighborhood theater cost me ten cents. After Pearl Harbor, they raised the price to eleven--a dime for the theater and one penny for the war effort. Nobody questioned its unconstitutionality. Our coming depression poses almost as much of a danger to us as the Nazis did. If it was Constitutional to tax movie tickets in '42, why we can't we tax porn in 2009?

Of course, there's that old question: just what is porn? There's no question in my mind that hardcore X-rated Pay-Per-View explicit sex movies will make the cut. But what do you do about softcore -- the kind of stuff that HBO and Showtime send into our homes after 10pm almost every night of the week -- full nudity for women, simulated sex acts, and everything except genitalia (with occasional exceptions) for men. Well, most of the sex-oriented channels must be specifically ordered and I'd like to see the IRS get a piece of that additional revenue, as well--there's no reason that the two highly profitable premium movie networks shouldn't contribute a bit to the national deficit as the national economy goes into the dumps.

If we could only get the blue-noses to shut up about "saving our children" and accept a Porn Tax as a way to save us all from another tax increase, maybe we could actually get it through Congress.

Next week, I'll suggest we legalize marijuana and tax that, too -- any po(r)t in a storm.