Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Galt's Gulch Rides Again: Fairness

So this was prompted by a facebook conversation. First, someone posted this:

Good stuff, right? Vaguely reminiscent of certain other American statesmen. And then, of course, someone had to wade in:
Nobody wants their mom and dad to suffer, that is a fallacy the liberals put out there to play on people's emotions to get what they want. The recession was caused by greed of EVERYONE, including the government, not just wall street. Frannie Mae and Freddie Mac did what? ACORN did what? Very liberal groups, what was their involvement?
I'll grant that there was greed involved in other realms than strictly wall street, but ACORN? An agency with $25M of funding a year which dealt with the lowest-income groups in the country? How, precisely, was it culpable in the recession? I asked this very question, and got an oh-so-informative response:
ACORN blows government money and do some really croaked[sic] and corrupt business.
Note that he didn't address the paltry amounts of government money that ACORN spent, but made a general statement without any sort of evidence backing it up. I shouldn't be surprised, but here we are. Then, of course, came the suggestion that fans of both Herman Cain and Ron Paul love to chant:
As I see it, he is saying that this can't be fixed by taking more from the middle class. We have done enough and pay more then we should. We need a flat tax across the board 10% for everyone and every company 7% for fed and 3% for state, done.
That'd be all well and good, except it doesn't make fiscal sense. Even if you slashed defense spending altogether, social security and medicare/medicaid cost more than 3% of the GDP of the US each. And interest payments on existing debt (let alone paying it down) consumed 1% of GDP in 2011. There's your 7%, gone, without spending anything on the military. Or the government itself. Or roads, interstate policing, education... So, a different voice was raised:
I think EVERYONE should pay something. 54% of American's don't pay, but still get public service. Even if it is something, it doesn't have to be a lot, but something, then it would make others more comfortable paying in their amount. I think a flat tax is the right answer, not sure of the number, but EVERYONE pays.

Ah, there's the chestnut. "Why should I pay for people's services that they don't pay for?" Well, let's see. Public services improve people's lives, making it easier for them to be more productive, more innovative, and (important to the US economy) better consumers. They also, in some measure, provide or facilitate employment. So let's assume a flat tax of 25%, since that might barely be enough to let the US get a handle on their debt.

Exhibit A: A family of 3, two parents and two children, living just above the poverty line in the US. Say they're earning $22 500. A 25% flat tax would leave them well below the poverty line, at $16 875, and likely having to choose between fuel for their car to get to work, and food. So either a support structure (which would likely cost substantially more than the tax would garner) would have to be put in place for families like these, or they could be left to gradually starve to death.

Exhibit B: One of the top 1% of earners is taxed at a 25% rate. Now, the average earner in the top 1% earned approximately $380 000 in 2010. A twenty-five percent tax would leave him at $285 000. So he pays about ninety thousand dollars in taxes, but is left with nearly seventeen times the income of Exhibit A. Moreover, their tax contributions, $5625, represent only 1.5% of Exhibit B's before-tax income. So if we adjust B's tax rate to, say, 31%, then four families in Exhibit A's situation can be forgiven their taxes, and be more productive, healthier, and generally a greater contribution to society.

When we continue... why no one is taxed in isolation.