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Fairness and taxation

The question of “fairness” looms large in the minds of the Democrats. “Fair share” is a favorite mantra, along with “equality” and “social justice.”

The concept of “fairness” sounds great. After all, who could be in favor of “unfairness,” until you start to look at the ramifications. Who decides what is “fair?” In legal proceedings, it’s obvious: the court does. But in politics? Aye, there’s the rub; the Legislature does. And to a Democrat’s way of thinking, “fair” is “whatever I say it is.”

Which brings us to the question of fairness in taxation. The Democrats make much of the “fairness” of the graduated income tax; they love the word “progressive.” After all, “progressive” implies progress. Who could be opposed to “progress?” In fact, “progressive” originally referred to the fact that the tax was graduated into brackets. But is a graduated tax a “fair” tax? Supporters say “yes, of course; those who have more should pay more.”

But why? Is this just a case of “You have it, I want it, therefore I’ll take it?” Or is there a justification for this attitude? Perhaps the rich have a greater debt to society that should be paid in the form of higher taxes. In other words, do the rich take more from society than the poor?

In my opinion, the rich take less from society than do the poor. They live in communities with security systems and private guards, which means a smaller demand on the police. Their houses are well-built with smoke- and carbon monoxide-detectors, so there is less demand on firefighters. They send their children to private schools, so there is less demand on the educational system. And they pay more for these public services through their higher taxes.

So where is the justification for “fair” taxes? By this line of thinking, the only “fair” taxes are on income and inheritances. And there is a word for all these other taxes — “regressive.” And who wants to “regress?” Obviously going backward is a bad thing, so “regressive” taxes must be bad things: they impact the poor disproportionately. So sales taxes, personal property taxes, real estate taxes, per-capita taxes and professional licensure fees should all be graduated, to be “fair.” For that matter, shouldn’t the rich pay more for milk and bread “because they can afford it?”

Recognizing the impossibility of such a tax system, the writer presents the property tax as “close to being fair,” which ignores the fact that the property tax is a flat tax, just like the others. It’s “fair” because the rich pay more in property taxes than the poor do. Well, duh! They also pay more in sales taxes on their Rolls-Royces than the poor do on their Fords.

As to the idea that because our neighboring states levy graduated income taxes, therefore we should — one would hope that that kind of “all my friends do it, why shouldn’t I?” thinking went out with graduation from high school.

So, what about the “fairness” of the graduated income tax, with its Byzantine system of deductions, exemptions, tax loss carry-forwards, and minimum alternative taxes? Is it “fair” that a single taxpayer should subsidize a family claiming six exemptions because they chose to have several children? Is it “fair” that a renter should subsidize someone who chose to live in a mansion and now claims a large mortgage interest deduction?

In my opinion, “regressive” flat taxes are actually “fair” taxes. Everyone pays something, which means everyone has a responsibility to the country and a stake in its government. Not to mention the impact of a flat tax at reducing that bloated bureaucracy called the IRS.

Michael Goldman

Watsontown

Submitted via email

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