Taxing Christmas trees to ... promote Christmas trees

This … is not satire:

President Obama’s Agriculture Department today announced that it will impose a new 15-cent charge on all fresh Christmas trees—the Christmas Tree Tax—to support a new Federal program to improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees.

Guess what the money will fund?  If you guessed “bureaucracy,” you get a sugar plum or two:

In the Federal Register of November 8, 2011, Acting Administrator of Agricultural Marketing David R. Shipman announced that the Secretary of Agriculture will appoint a Christmas Tree Promotion Board.  The purpose of the Board is to run a “program of promotion, research, evaluation, and information designed to strengthen the Christmas tree industry’s position in the marketplace; maintain and expend existing markets for Christmas trees; and to carry out programs, plans, and projects designed to provide maximum benefits to the Christmas tree industry” (7 CFR 1214.46(n)).  And the program of “information” is to include efforts to “enhance the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry in the United States” (7 CFR 1214.10).

To pay for the new Federal Christmas tree image improvement and marketing program, the Department of Agriculture imposed a 15-cent fee on all sales of fresh Christmas trees by sellers of more than 500 trees per year (7 CFR 1214.52).  And, of course, the Christmas tree sellers are free to pass along the 15-cent Federal fee to consumers who buy their Christmas trees.

So what will the Ministry Of Celebratory Trees do?  They will “improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees.”  Pardon me if I’m a little confused, but with retailers already decorating for Christmas despite the fact that Thanksgiving has not yet arrived, what can the Tree Bureau do to promote Christmas more?  Start converting hathens to Catholicism?  Speaking of which, does this promotion effort qualify as a faith-based initiative?  I await with bated breath the ACLU’s view of the “Christmas Tree Promotion Board.”

The board will obviously push real trees as an alternative to the growing popularity of artificial trees.  This is a great example of unnecessary and damaging government distortion of markets.  People have rational reasons to prefer the artificial tree.  With proper care, they are more economical than live trees, and those with allergies don’t have to worry about dealing with the health issues real trees provoke.  The industry creates manufacturing jobs, although those are probably overseas, thanks to our tax code and domestic manufacturing burdens.  Most importantly, artificial trees eliminate the fire hazard that a “live” (actually very dead) tree presents in a house, especially when hung with electric lights.  Does the Obama administration take a pro-house fire position now?

The government has no business in product promotion in the first place.  Only the Obama administration would think that a tax on Christmas trees makes a fine stocking gift in a holiday season where the jobless rate remains stuck at 9%, a level we have had for more than two years.  Someone needs to drop a lump of coal and a few sticks in Barack’s stocking this year.

Update: Via my friend Dustin Siggins, Media Matters is defending Obama by saying that this fee structure was requested by the industry, and that it was first considered under Bush.  To which I answer — so what?  Bush didn’t implement it, Obama did, and it’s a dumb idea regardless of whether the industry requested a Christmas Tree Promotion Board or not.  Government doesn’t belong in the advertising business for any private-sector product, and the last thing we need right now is another bureaucracy spending tax dollars.

Besides, why is the first defense of this administration that Bush first thought of doing what they do?  Didn’t this President run on the concept of change?