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Alcohol taxes in the United States, mapped

Alcoholic beverages are subject to special excise taxes in virtually every American state, but there's little policy rhyme or reason to how they vary.

Based on this map of taxes on distilled spirits, you'd think the Pacific Northwestern states were strong believers in paternalistic regulation of alcohol consumption:

<a href="">Tax Foundation</a>

Tax Foundation

But when it comes to beer taxes, they're in the middle of the pack, and it's the South that's looking to tax booze:

<a href="">Tax Foundation</a>

Tax Foundation

Overall, if you do a scatter plot of each state's rank in spirit tax level versus beer tax level, you find yourself gazing upon a sea of randomness:

Some of this can probably be chalked up to interest group politics. Tennessee is an important home to spirits manufacturing, so it taxes the pants off beer and goes easy on spirits. And some of it is likely political economy — very conservative Deep South states seem to enjoy relying on the heavily regressive beer tax over other kinds of revenue.

But mostly it looks like American legislators as a whole simply aren't all that thoughtful about how they are designing these taxes. The mere fact that taxes are levied on quantities of beer or spirits rather than on quantities of alcohol speaks to a failure to really consider the issues in a public health framework.

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