Alaska: Land of Contradictions
Raising Out-of-Pocket Costs Leads to Fewer Deaths
The politics of the Last Frontier are a strange brew of libertarianism, moralism, privacy, and a love of government handouts. We trim and blend two 2008 articles from Miller–McCune, the first of Oct 2 and the second of Nov 25.
by Lee Drutman and by Matt Palmquist
Alaska: Land of Contradictions
Alaska receives more federal money per capita than any other state in the union -- $506.34 . And 1 in 3 jobs there is connected to the federal government. Plus, every resident gets a dividend check from the State based on oil revenue.
Nevertheless, Alaskans bite the hand that feeds.
* To protect themselves from government snooping, they wrote an explicit right to privacy into the state constitution. Which can come in handy, since Alaska is the only US state where possession of marijuana is legal (in small amounts).
* In 1990, they elected a member of the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party, Walter Joseph Hickel, to be its governor.
* In 2003, the state Legislature passed a resolution condemning the USA “Patriot Act”, instructing state police not to “initiate, participate in, or assist or cooperate with an inquiry, surveillance or detention” without “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity under Alaska State Law”.
But starting in 1968, with the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay, and in 1977, with the completion of the Trans-Alaskan oil pipeline, an oil boom began attracting increasing numbers of transplants from oil-producing states like Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, bringing along fundamentalist values commonly seen in those states.
In his typology of state political cultures, Daniel Elazar breaks state political culture into three domains: moralistic, individualist, and traditionalistic. “Individualism obviously fits into the frontier mystique, the self-reliance given very extreme climate circumstances,” said Gerald McBeath, author (with Thomas A. Morehouse) of Alaska Politics and Government. And moralism, he said, refers to the rising religious dimension of politics.
Yet, “Alaskans feel they are overtaxed,” said Dr. Carl Shepro. “We have the lowest tax burden in the US, but if you talk to the average person on the street, they say they are being taxed to death and want to elect Republicans. People say they hate socialism and government ought not to be doing all the things it does, but they’ll take a check from the government as a reward for living in Alaska.”
In Alaska, Tax Hike on Alcohol Leads to Fewer Deaths
The religious streak in Alaska politics may have gotten passed a higher tax that saves lives. "Sin taxes" are known to modify behavior a bit, but small adjustments may reap bigger rewards than expected.
In the first study to directly measure the impact of state alcohol tax changes on deaths from alcohol-related diseases, researchers discovered that raising alcohol taxes had two to four times the impact of other common prevention efforts, including school programs and media campaigns.
In addition, boosting taxes on beer, wine and liquor immediately reduces the number of fatalities from alcohol-related diseases such as alcohol poisoning, liver disease, and oral or breast cancers.
"The findings are quite astounding," said Alexander C. Wagenaar of the University of Florida College of Medicine, lead author of the study that appeared in the online edition of the American Journal of Public Health, which was funded by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
"A simple adjustment of the tax rate resulted in a substantial drop in the death rate."
Earlier research has shown that increasing prices is a great way to regulate alcohol, with underage drinkers especially responsive to higher prices.
The tax researchers studied two different tax hikes on alcoholic beverages in 1983 and 2002 in Alaska, and tracked the number of people who died from alcohol-related diseases in the state for years preceding and following the tax increases. The authors decided to examine Alaska because it was one of the first states to institute a substantial tax hike: In 1983, Alaska's tax on beer increased to 63 cents per gallon from 46 cents the year before, and increased to $1.20 in 2002.
"Alaska was cognizant of its alcohol problems and decided do something meaningful. We are now benefiting from the results of their unique experiment," Wagenaar said.
Factoring in nationwide trends-because of improved health care and other factors-and running comparisons with other states, the authors discovered that the 1983 tax increase was immediately followed by a 29 percent plunge in deaths; the 2002 tax increase reduced the number of deaths by 11 percent. The tax increase was also found to have a lasting impact.
"An intervention that can reduce the death rate of any chronic disease such as cancer or heart disease by a few percent across the whole population is an important success," Wagenaar said. "In this case, the death rate for alcohol-related diseases dropped suddenly by at least 11 percent and at minimal cost. That shows what other states could gain if they were to implement a similar tax increase."
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