The Beauty of Greed

Steve Palay

October 18, 1990|By Steve Palay

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN — Ann Arbor, Michigan. SIN TAXES are going up, but Helco, the corporate leader in sin, isn't fighting the plan. Instead, Helco (formerly the firm of Hellfire & Damnation) is actually celebrating.

''Sure, we aren't happy with the new taxes on beer and cigarettes,'' said Helco spokesman Daimon Mephisto. ''But we look at the whole package as a victory for our Division of Greed.''

Greed was supposed to have had its decade in the sun, and Helco had been looking around for a new deadly sin to take its place. But with Gluttony on a cholesterol-free diet and Lust staying home nights, prospects at Helco looked bleaker than usual.

''We thought Sloth might be the ticket,'' Mr. Mephisto says. ''And certainly Congress was doing its part to promote that sin. But then they went into action and gave us this new package.''

President Bush has been willing to take the blame for the new taxes, but Mr. Mephisto says that the real credit has to go to the American people as a whole.

''By all rights, people should have been demanding a soak-the-rich tax package. But the demand never appeared. We knew the rich didn't want more taxes, but we were surprised that everyone else didn't want the rich to pay more taxes either. Then it dawned on us -- everyone else still believes they're going to be rich one day, and they figure there's no point in being rich if you just have to give it all back in taxes.''

It's this American belief in the possibility of wealth that has Helco jumping.

''Our research shows that the average American has just one daydream -- winning the lottery and then beating the taxes on those winnings. In fact, the lotto daydream has utterly replaced the old sexual fantasies, which is bad for Lust but great for Greed. As usual, we at Helco are in a no-lose situation.''The upshot of all this is that Helco's marketing position is stronger than ever.

''The wages of sin are sin,'' Mr. Mephisto says. ''But the taxes on sin are almost laughable. It's a few cents if you're tempted by drink or cigarettes, but the new package actually rewards you if you're a greedy, avaricious and wealthy devil. So when our sales force goes out to the public, we don't even have to guarantee that the ill-gotten gains we're promising will be tax-exempt. The government has taken care of that already.''

In fact, the Helco sales force only has a small luxury tax to take care of.

''Since it seems that everyone expects to get rich, we only have to make a slight adjustment in their expectations. Most people, in hope of getting rich, rashly promise to give huge chunks of their money to charity and good causes. When that doesn't work, they turn to Helco. Except they feel guilty about not giving that cash to charity and good causes after all. So now, we tell them that that's what the luxury tax is for -- it replaces all the money they were going to give to good works.''

Health care, education, social welfare and well-being -- that's a .. lot of guilt for a small luxury tax to cover.

''Actually, it doesn't cover even a fraction of those concerns,'' Mr. Mephisto says. ''But we don't worry, since Guilt isn't one of our Deadly Sins.''

That's the news from Helco, where we all seem to be going in a handbasket. But at least we still dream of making the trip in style.

Mr. Palay is a free-lance writer.

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