Spam and Taxing Emails

Every so often I get a chain email that alleges that Congress is about to levy a tax on email. Then I think to myself, “this email is proof of why that tax might not be such a bad idea”. Not only would an emal tax cut down on chain letters, it would also keep my acquaintances from sending me the latest list of jokes that was forwarded to them, or the fake picture of the tourist on the tower, or the crying eagle. On the other hand, I would get less exciting opportunities to embezzle funds from Nigeria (which I talked about here and here). Firms will engage in an activity, for example, spam, if the incremental revenue exceeds the incremental cost. In the case of spam, the cost is roughly zero. So any proposal that, if disseminated far enough and wide enough, can generate any positive amount of revenue gets sent out to the In Boxes of the world.

Take the Nigerian Bank emails that I get nearly every day, and imagine that 1 in 50 million such emails find a sucker who ends up losing their life savings of $50,000. To curtail such emails, the tax only has to be high enough that the cost of sending out 10 million emails exceeds $50,000, or 1/10th of a penny. I’m not quite ready to endorse an email tax, but it would go a long way towards reducing spam. I guess the only down side would be the sharp reduction in the number of opportunities See Anna Kournikova topless!!!!!!, Refinance my Home!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, Order Toner Cartridges in Bulk!!!!!!!!!!!!!, and to Enlarge my Penis!!!!!!!!!.

Or I could just adopt the AOL approach and sue the spammers for $10 million each.


P.S. Imagine that telemarketers had to pay 5 cents for every call they made. If such a tax could be enforced then there would be a dramatic reduction in the number of calls. Because of the costs, only higher yield pitches (meaning those that result in a sale more often) could profitably be made; other telemarketers would be driven out of business. The high yield pitches have higher yields for a reason: they are offers that people like or find valuable–good telemarketing calls. So if telemarketing calls were taxed, most of the crappy ones would be eliminated, and only the valuable ones would remain, and we would all actually like getting telemarketing calls (but we’d get a lot less of them).

Think about that: tax something and it becomes valuable, rather than annoying! (Or at least becomes much less annoying).