I heard something from a friend the other day about a tax on Christmas trees, so I inquired what they were talking about. By the time I looked it up, I found that it had been put on hold.1 It made me curious, though, so I looked into it some more.
The concept was that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) would set up a board for promoting the Christmas tree industry, funded by a 15 cent fee on each tree sold. Apparently a lot of the Christmas tree industry was in support of this (or perhaps it was just the most politically influential ones).2
This sounds crazy, right? Well, my research taught me that there are already several similar boards in place, and I am sure you are already aware of them. They're called commodity checkoff programs and they entail the producers of a particular agricultural industry using the funds to promote and do research. The organizations must promote the product in a generic way, without reference to a particular producer.
The ones you're probably familiar with include the “Got Milk?” campaign, “Pork. The Other White Meat,” “The Incredible, Edible Egg,” and “Beef: It's What's for Dinner.” These have all been successful advertising campaigns, but as you can see, they're not advertising a specific producer.
The underlying idea kind of makes sense. I am sure it is difficult to advertise and get consumers to choose one producer's eggs, pork, or beef over another. Joining together to mutually promote with generic advertising could work well to increase demand for the product. If that approach works, then great, Christmas tree growers should voluntarily join together to start up such a venture.
The key difference with these type of government programs, as you might have already guessed, is that these checkoffs are mandatory. If you are a producer that does not want to participate in the program, well, tough luck.
This does not make sense. If it is truly such a great idea, then producers will voluntarily form these associations. Those who do not want to should not be forced to. Maybe not joining would be detrimental to their business, but that is their decision as a business owner and the market will reward or penalize them appropriately.
There is no need for government to be mandating entire industries pay fees to promote their industry.