The Library Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri

The Lap of Luxury

"In our society today it has become almost impossible to distinguish between luxuries and necessities."

Much is being made of a Pew Survey on the quickly changing perception of what constitutes a luxury.  The quote above, however, was uttered by Wilbur Mills in 1965.  (Those of a certain age undoubtedly will remember the spectacularly inappropriate shenanigans of Mills and Fanne Foxe ("the Argentine Firecracker") in 1974, leading to Mills' swift political demise.)

In '65 Congressman Mills was the floor manager of a bill to repeal luxury taxes.  This bill illustrates the flexible and mutable understanding of what constitutes a luxury.  Among the taxes to be repealed in 1965 were those on musical instruments, mechanical pencils, lighters, and playing cards.  The "luxury tax" on beer remains to the present day!

So today's economic downturn forces us to revisit the necessity/luxury conundrum.  This cartoon from 1921 shows the ungoing perceptual nature of this question.

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