Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Jessica Valenti, founder of the Feministing blog, received an ugly reaction on Twitter for wondering if any countries subsidised tampons. Ms Valenti’s article – The Case for Free Tampons – asks: “Why aren’t tampons free?”
The short answer is that these goods take time, labour and energy to design, produce, advertise, distribute and sell. Ms Valenti asserts:
We need to move beyond the stigma of ‘that time of the month’ – women’s feminine hygiene products should be free for all, all the time.
Declaring these “high” costs to be “simply, well, bull****” is not a magical incantation to evaporate those costs. In Britain, it is plausible that sanitary products could be purchased by taxpayers through the National Health Service, but this changes who bears those costs, rather than nullifying those costs.
Given the competitive variety of available pads and tampons, governments would need to purchase sufficient numbers at appropriate quality, without disproportionate stockpiling. In the name of “healthcare”, Ms Valenti argues for the universal prepaid provision of a product associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome. A single, consistent, large buyer could stifle future innovations; as well as ensuring the success of manufacturers depends on government contracts, and not the revealed preferences of women. This centralisation may not be a good deal for women, either as recipients or as taxpayers.
Ms Valenti implies governments should fix the price of tampons to zero. In addition to the historical failure of price controls, Venezuela recently attempted price controls with another commodity: toilet paper. Professor Hanke notes:
State-controlled prices – prices that are set below market-clearing price – always result in shortages.
Ms Valenti claims these products are given a “luxury” status within the British and US tax and benefit systems. Ms Valenti notes “food stamps don’t cover feminine hygiene products, so some women resort to selling their food stamps in order to pay for ‘luxuries’ like tampons”. The linked article states:
Eva breaks the law, selling her food stamps to pay for the rent, phone bill, detergent and tampons.
The food stamps from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have limited eligibility, failing to cover non-luxury items such as soaps and toilet paper.
Ms Valenti writes:
Women in the UK are fighting to axe the 5% tax on tampons (it used to be taxed at 17.5%!), which are considered ‘luxuries’ while men’s razors, for some baffling reason, are not.
It is a common misconception that men’s razors are zero-rated for Valued Added Tax (VAT): the VAT is at 20%, whereas the VAT on sanitary products is set at 5%. Member states of the European Union are disallowed from placing goods or services onto the zero-rate VAT, if a higher rate had previously been applied. The reason there is 5% VAT on tampons is because the VAT was previously at 17.5%: the old standard rate.
Whilst I agree that there should be no VAT on feminine hygiene products, this move necessitates amending the European Commission’s VAT directives. As with medicines, it is not necessary for governments to become purchasers and distributors.