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Alcohol tax hike cuts two ways

中国日报网 2013-05-17 10:50

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Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: Alcohol tax hike cuts two ways.

My comments:

Or it cuts both ways, meaning an alcohol tax hike has its advantages as well as drawbacks.

If a government raises alcohol tax in order to raise revenue, for example, it will succeed – to some extent.

But a tax hike has consequences the government may not want to see. A tax hike means higher prices for all alcohol beverages. A higher price often hurts sales. A drop in sales in turn means less business in general, which is bad for everybody all around and which eventually leads to diminishing taxes for the government to collect.

That’s a simplified example, of course. In raising alcohol taxes, the government may not care about a dip in sales so much. It may have other benefits in mind. Higher prices may force people to drink less, which means, for example, fewer drink driving cases, less domestic violence because of drinking and fewer hospital visits as a result of binge drinking.

Overall, the benefits may easily outweigh the drawbacks.

Still, a tax hike has its drawbacks, and that’s what “cuts both ways” means here.

The phrase “cutting both ways” originally addresses the double-edge nature of swords, knives and things of that nature in general.

Cutting both ways? Yeah, both this way and that way. A knife cuts forwards and backwards, on the left side and on the right side.

Metaphorically speaking, a knife that cuts both ways can hurt both your enemy as well as yourself.

All weaponry, for that matter, cuts both ways. They help you hurt your enemy but they hurt you when they’re in your enemy’s hands.

That’s why it’s probably better for everyone from all around not to have weapons in the first place. Take nuclear weapons, for example. Now that America has it (and has dropped two on Japan), what happens? It lives in mortal fear of it – of someone potentially using the nuke against America itself. That’s why they’re so keen to stop proliferation of nukes. That makes sense because after America had it, the former Soviets soon had it. Then the British had it. The French had it. The Chinese had it. Now Iran, DPRK, India, Pakistan all want to have it.

Terrible scenarios, as you can imagine, if everyone who wanted one had one.

A terrible picture to present, I know, but you get the point.

Here are recent media examples of things that cut both ways or two ways:

1. Friday’s sell-off in gold sent the yellow metal into a bear market. In other words, the value of gold is down 20 percent from its recent high.

At least some of this elevated volatility can be attributed to the fact that it’s just easy to sell gold.

This is apparent in the dumping of Gold ETFs by investors.

“Prior to the introduction of Gold ETFs, investors seeking exposure to the metal were limited to gold mining stocks, bullion, coins and futures contracts, which carry among them extra risks including mining company fundamentals, bid and ask spreads, valuation, storage costs, liquidity constraints and futures expiries,” said Oppenheimer’s John Stoltzfus in an interview with Business Insider last December.

“We surmise that the introduction of the U.S.-traded Gold ETF (GLD) on November 18, 2004 has been in no small part responsible for the persistently good performance of the precious metal for close to 8 years since.”

In a phone call on Friday, Stoltzfus told Business Insider, “Liquidity cuts both ways.”

As prospects for interest rates to rise down the line, Stoltzfus notes that investors have to ask themselves “What is my best choice here?”

“Combined with extreme liquidity, it’s easy to respond to that thought,” he said.

ETFs have allowed investors and speculators to easily rush into gold.

And that same investment vehicle is allowing them to rush for the exits.

- Liquidity Cuts Both Ways In The Crazy Gold Market, BusinessInsider.com, April 14, 2013.

2. Of course, a boss/employee relationship cuts two ways, and there are plenty of things employees can do to make a bad boss relationship better.

One tactic is to think about what is keeping your boss up at night and how you can solve that problem, Lind said.

Grossman said that rather than blaming the boss, workers should spend their energy trying to turn things around. If you want a raise or promotion, tell your boss - but frame it in a way that will help your boss, too.

“Do it in a way that they can see how they will benefit from what (you’re) talking about,” Grossman said.

Of course, some boss relationships just can't be salvaged. In the last few years, many employees have been asked to do more work with fewer people, and not every boss has done a good job keeping their remaining workers happy.

Many of the people in the survey who said their manager had hurt their career complained that their boss had reduced or eliminated support for maintaining work/life balance.

Even in a tight job market, Grossman said that may be why only 20 percent of the people surveyed said their boss had hurt their career.

“When you work for a bad boss, you don't work for them very long,” Grossman said.

- Good Boss, Bad Boss: 2 in 10 Say Manager Hurt Career, CNBCNews.com, May 6, 2013.

3. Just as the style is nearly paradoxical in its ability to cut both ways, so are the novel’s meanings. It is a celebration of intemperance, and a condemnation of its destructiveness. It is about trying to recapture our fleeting joys, about the fugitive nature of delight. It is a tribute to possibility, and a dirge about disappointment. It is a book in which the glory of imagination smacks into the grimness of real life. As Fitzgerald's editor Max Perkins wrote in 1925: it is “a story that ranges from pure lyrical beauty to sheer brutal realism”. The hard facts of power and economics play out against the mythological promises of fantasy and ideology. Gatsby learns the hard way that being found out is inevitable, escape from his past impossible; but Nick beats a retreat back home, escaping back into his own nostalgic past. We find ourselves surveying the waste and wreckage after the party ends, but ready to carouse some more.

Gatsby is a fable about betrayal – of others, and of our own ideals. The concept that a New World in America is even possible, that it won't simply reproduce the follies and vices of the Old World, is already an illusion, a paradise lost before it has even been conceived. By the time Gatsby tries to force that world to fulfil its promise, the dream is long gone. But that doesn’t stop him from chasing “the green light” of wealth and status, the dangled promise of power that can only create a corrupt plutocracy shored up by vast social inequality.

If that sounds familiar, it should: our gilded age bears a marked resemblance to Fitzgerald’s. It has become a truism that Fitzgerald was dazzled by wealth, but the charge infuriated him: “Riches have never fascinated me, unless combined with the greatest charm or distinction,” he insisted, adding later, “I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored my entire life and works”. He wasn’t in thrall to wealth, but making a study of how it was corrupting the country he loved. “Like so many Americans,” Fitzgerald wrote in his 1927 story “Jacob’s Ladder”, “he valued things rather than cared about them.”

The materialistic world of Gatsby is defined by social politics in a metropolitan America. It is a story of class warfare in a nation that denies it even has a class system, in which the game is eternally rigged for the rich to win. As the eminent critic Lionel Trilling observed in 1951: “Fitzgerald, more than anyone else of his time, realised the rigorousness of the systems of prestige that lie beneath the American social fluidity.” In fact, as a young man Fitzgerald described himself as a socialist, and in the 1930s, like almost all writers of his era, he became interested in communism (although he was soon unimpressed). And it is certainly true that if Fitzgerald was a socialist, he was the original champagne socialist.

He was so far ahead of his time that we are only just catching up with him. Fitzgerald even recognised our obsession with youth, writing in 1934 of Nicole Diver in Tender is the Night: “she was enough ridden by the current youth worship, the moving pictures with their myriad faces of girl-children, blandly represented as carrying on the work and wisdom of the world, to feel a jealousy of youth.” And he understood early that Americans try to liberate themselves from history, to float free from it, because part of the so-called American dream, bound up with fantasies of starting over, is the escape from time and mutability into a purely sybaritic present.

Gatsby is destroyed by the founding American myth: that the marketplace can be a religion, that the material can ever be ideal. At the beginning of the novel Fitzgerald writes of Gatsby’s capacity for hope; at the end he writes of man’s capacity for wonder. And the distance that the novel traverses is the defeat of that capacity, its surrender to our capacity for cynicism. All that enchantment withers up and blows away, skittering with the leaves across Gatsby’s dusty lawn.

In the unforgettable closing passage of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald makes it clear that if his story is about America, it is also a universal tale of human aspiration. Nick Carraway wanders to the shore at the edge of the continent and imagines Dutch sailors seeing America for the first time: “Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”

The trees are long gone, replaced by vulgar mansions and the wasteland of ash heaps next to which poor George and Myrtle Wilson live, “contiguous to absolutely nothing”. What is left is what was always there – the imagination. But even this Fitzgerald undercuts: pandering, after all, is ministering to mere gratification. The idea that America panders to our fantasies is the precise opposite of the American dream. We are forever chasing the green light, a chimera, a false promise of self-empowerment in which we are desperate to believe. And yet although it is a lie, we can’t survive without it, for we always need something commensurate to our capacity for wonder, even if it compels us into a contemplation we neither understand nor desire.

And so we falter forward, lost in the aftermath of wonder that follows The Great Gatsby.

- What makes The Great Gatsby great? Guardian.co.uk, May 3, 2013.

Related stories:

Burn the bridge?

Those helping others need protection

Pulling her leg?

Don’t buy in to everything you read

Go to Zhang Xin's column

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About the author:

Zhang Xin(张欣) has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

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