Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tax wedding rings. No one will know the difference.

With our huge budget deficit, there are many ideas on how to raise more government revenue. Most of them involve raising taxes on the highest-earning households. I have a better idea: tax the ultimate in status purchases -- wedding rings.

Not romantic, but practical. The reasoning: wedding rings are purchased largely because they are expensive. No bride wants to feel cheap. Men are usually advised to spend some fixed amount of their income on the ring: somewhere between 5% and two months of salary being the most common advice. If men are looking to spend a certain amount of money, and care very little about the ring's actual attributes, a tax would not affect their purchasing at all!

How much revenue could a wedding ring tax raise? From a little Google-work, here are some starting figures:
If we split the difference on average engagement ring prices (arriving at mean of $2,650) make the heroic assumption that every bride gets both an engagement and wedding ring, and the less-heroic assumption that wedding ring demand is inelastic with regard to price, it becomes fairly easy to estimate revenue from a tax.

Suppose government taxed half the cost of rings. Price of the ring would remain about the same because it's a status purchase; jewelers would use slightly less high-quality gold, diamonds, etc. to make up lost profits from the tax.

For a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation:  
Revenue = ($1,325 + $2,500) * 2,400,000 = $9,180,000,000 or $9.18 billion dollars per year.

It won't balance the budget but neither will most of the proposals floating around, like turds in the political punchbowl, being pushed back and forth by the Obama Administration and Congress. If taxes are going to be raised, I for one think it would be better to choose targets that will impact consumers as little as possible. From this perspective, wedding rings are an easy target.