“The [magic] question I always ask is: Would you rather have their income and pay their taxes or have the income of someone who doesn’t pay taxes? The discussion is over right there.”
There is a great deal of discussion currently about whether the tax burden in this country is shared fairly.
Are the ‘rich’ and the rich (some deserve air quotes, some don’t) being taxed more than their fair share? Are the middle class, working poor and poor under-taxed? Should we be concerned that some folks make so little income that they are not taxed at all?
In “Zombie Tax Lies” (NY Times, April 22,2011) by Paul Krugman, Mr. Krugman makes a couple of points.
Firstly, no matter how poor you are or how low your income is, you pay taxes! Everyone pays sales taxes (which are flat and regressive) and everyone who earns ‘dime one’ pays payroll taxes (which, likewise, are flat and — in some ways — even more regressive than sales taxes).
His second point is that the argument often centers on federal income taxes, which are in fact only a fraction of all the taxes paid by Americans. When you roll in various state and local taxes, no one escapes. (You remember the saying about death and that other thing? No escape.) And it is the state and local taxes that significantly lift the tax burden on the non-rich.
His article also includes a graph which demonstrates that while the rich do pay most taxes (unsurprising, since 20% of income earners earn 80% of all income), the poor and middle class are often paying a higher proportion of their incomes as total taxes.
I rather like stewarjt‘s (April 22nd, 2011, 12:14 pm) response to the Krugman piece: “The [magic] question I always ask is: Would you rather have their income and pay their taxes or have the income of someone who doesn’t pay taxes? The discussion is over right there.”
Many Conservatives, ‘rich’ people and rich people are really, really stubborn, though, and these arguments are likely to roll off their backs faster than an elephant on a ski slope. These folks typically are exclusively into self-interest: “What’s in it for me? Why should I care? These folks only get what they deserve, and if they’re poor they earned it.”
For these folks, sadly, I find that you have to appeal to that sense of self(ish) interest, and while it comes off sounding vaguely extortionate, I tell them to consider it ‘insurance’. My argument goes like this:
Okay. Let’s assume that these people are totally responsible for their own poverty. Their ‘bad’. Nonetheless, they out-number you at least 80-to-1 (depending on where you draw the income line).
Now, even if you’re a social Darwinist, you have to take a pause at those odds, ’cause these folks aren’t just going to do ‘the right thing’, move under a bridge somewhere, die and “reduce the surface population” just because you consider that their just desserts.
No. Usually, at some point, there is discontent, then unrest, then activism, then violence, then bloodshed.
Think more like France in 1789 or Russia in 1917.
So my word of advice to the rich: Pay your protection money. Keep the poor sufficiently content that they don’t get angry enough to revolt, confiscate your assets and execute you.
Sound drastic? Sure. Sound improbable? Absolutely. Extortion? Maybe. But impossible…?
Read your history.
Slightly revised, October 10, 2011