J.E. Dyer at Hot Air:
No, taxes shouldn’t be a “fairness” issue
What are we, six years old? Taxes should pay for the costs of government. That’s what we have taxes for.
The proper purpose of taxes is not to establish a condition of “fairness.” It’s to pay for government: a legislature, executive, military, police, firefighting, courts, schools. But for 100 years now, the percentage-based income tax has been shifting public dialogue on taxes steadily away from their proper purpose, and toward increasingly juvenile arguments over “fairness,” as if the tax code is like Mom, telling Makayla to share the toys and be patient because Brendan is little.
If we let taxation be about “fairness,” rather than paying for the cost of government, the two big problems we have are defining “fairness,” and defining the role of government in promoting it. Those questions will never be settled to the satisfaction of all.
It might seem that the first question – “what is fair?” – is the more contentious one. We discuss it incessantly, after all. But the more fundamental question is actually what government should be doing about fairness. The freighted nature of our discussions about fairness is largely relieved if we assign a limited, utilitarian role to government. It doesn’t much matter what other people think is “fair,” in a lengthy list of situations, if they can’t harness the power of the armed state to enforce it on their fellow men.
Thus, I reject the whole idea that government needs to keep an eye on the citizens’ incomes, and worry about “fairness” as if the numbers are a meaningful indicator of it. For much of American history, no government at any level actually knew how much income individual citizens had. That was not a problem. It didn’t need correction. We could do away with virtually our entire tax code, if we did away with the modern idea that government needs to know what our incomes are.
The article starts out okay but you can see where this is going – an argument against the progressive income tax and in favor of a flat tax and/or national sales tax, two chimeras of modern right-wing politics.
Nobody likes paying taxes. It’s easy to convince people they are taxed too much, and fairness will always be an issue because nobody wants to pay more than their fair share (or see someone else pay less.) There will always be plenty of people on both sides of the political spectrum who object to paying taxes for things they don’t thing government ought to be doing.
Dyer conflates the issue of how taxes should be spent with how they should be raised.
There is an urban legend about the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton. When asked why he robbed banks Sutton allegedly answered “Because that’s where the money is.”
If we look only at the question of who should pay taxes, the answer is simple – the people who can afford to pay them.
We could pass a law that says every man, woman and child in the nation has to pay a flat $5,000 per year in taxes, but how many would be able to pay? People living below the poverty line cannot afford to pay taxes. Neither can most children or the disabled. The elderly may have income but most of them are living off retirement savings, investments and pensions.
There are lots of working poor that can afford to pay a little bit in taxes, but less than their “equal” share. Then there are the people in the middle class who can carry their own weight. Last but not least there are the rich and the super-rich.
That’s where the money is.