Monday, October 24, 2011

What's fair?

"The rich should pay their fair share" is an ubiquitous meme these days from those who want to take more money from successful folks.  I know it has been, but I don't recall those who advocate poorly-done income redistribution being quite so proud of it before.  And of course none of them can answer the question "What's fair?" with anything more concrete than More!

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by that, given how people love to throw around diagnoses like Mardi Gras beads ("Most CEOs are psychopaths!  Dude wrote a book that said so!").

Nevertheless, it is a question worth considering.  What it is not, however, is a question which can be properly considered in isolation.  Of course, those on the Left want us to, because that is the essence of class warfare.  Let's soak those guys, just to be fair.

But what is fair?  Isn't it something that should involve consideration of everyone?  My kids certainly seem to think so, as does anyone who has ever come up on the short side of an arrangement.

Let's take the only concrete answer I have ever seen (and I really respect the people who do answer this, even if I don't necessarily agree): return the top tax bracket to its Clinton-era level of 39.6%.  Okay, fine.  Let's do that.

But how about returning the tax rate of the lowest bracket to 15%?  Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would have done that, granted, but in the past several months I have only ever heard people advocate the return for the top tax bracket.  Because the rich aren't paying their fair share.

Can I ask: What's a fair share for the poorest Americans?

I'm serious.  I understand the logic of a graduated income tax.  But if it is fair to ask so much more of the super-rich because they are super rich, why isn't it fair to ask at least some of the poor? 

The poor use more social services than do the rich.  It's the way the system is made, of course, and I am not disputing that.  Hell, I've benefited from it.  And perhaps it is because I have that I feel compelled to ask this question.  Why should any group of people be encouraged to take without giving?  As I've covered in this blog before, parents know that expecting kids to contribute to the household (and I do not mean monetarily, in this case; it's an imperfect comparison) helps build self esteem.

So, again, why can't we expect the poor to contribute something?  Food stamps & welfare both carry work requirements in many (if not all) cases, so clearly this isn't an alien concept.  And yet, any proposed tax code change is pilloried as regressive--I've been hearing it for years about the Fair Tax, and now I'm hearing it about Herman Cain's 999 program. 

But if higher taxes are good for some people, they must be good for all people.  At least if you are laying any claim to fairness.  Treating people differently without good reason is fundamentally unfair.


Bob S. said...

I understand the logic of a graduated income tax.

I don't really.

Under the graduated tax bracket, a fair share of income is 15% if a person makes 34,500 dollars but 1 dollar more means a fair share is 25%.

How does that make sense?

What changes at that dividing line that makes my effort any more or less?

You raise some good points about the poor taking without giving.

I think a better phrasing would be "taking without being capable of giving"?

I don't mind helping those who can't not help themselves. Of course I would prefer to keep more of my money so I can decide who to help.

But shouldn't the focus be on who is incapable of helping themselves?
That is the idea of the safety net...not a hammock for those who are capable but prefer not to help themselves.

Sabra said...

I think my brain had gone to sleep already when I wrote that last night; you are right of course about a stepped system of taxation.

Now, when it comes to helping those who cannot help themselves...Here's the problem: How do we recognize them? And what help does it make sense for us, as a society, to give? I'd far rather money be funneled into decent job training (rather than semi-skilled positions like CNA that don't pay much more than minimum wage & so ensure a given person won't get off all government programs) if it has to go into anything.