Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Flat Tax and the Middle Child

Being a middle child, fairness is a big deal to me. I’ve been socially bred to desire and see fairness spread to all corners of the earth. It is pretty much a fool’s errand though. I long to be power hungry and controlling like eldest children or fun and irresponsible like youngest children. But alas, I’m stuck here in the middle, trying to make peace with everyone, and apparently mostly failing at it, given the general state of our conflict-ridden world.

The Flat Tax turned up in a lunch conversation yesterday, and it got me to thinking about fairness, especially as it relates to taxation.

You remember the Flat Tax, back from the olden days of the 90s. It almost seems quaint, now that we’ve mostly bankrupted the country by eagerly giving away large tax cuts to the wealthiest among us. In the days before compassionate conservatism, the wealthy used to have to work hard to transfer their tax responsibilities to others. A favorite tactic was whining that higher income is taxed at higher rates, and pointing out the unfair burden they must bear as a result. A Flat Tax, where everyone pays the same percentage, would be a much more equitable and fair way to pay taxes. Never mind that everyone’s income is already taxed at the same rate within each bracket (meaning that the first 7K of everyone’s income is taxed at 10%, and it is only the part above 325K that is taxed at the highest rate of 35%). It is unfair that the part of one’s income that is used to buy vacation homes is taxed at a higher rate than the part that is used to buy bread.

I gave my inner middle child some coffee and donuts and told it to mull this over. I’m not sure whether it was the sugar or caffeine, but it came up with a surprising but logical result. I think I could actually be on board with the Flat Tax, with one major condition. If it is unfair to tax people at different rates, then let’s solve the problem by just mandating that everyone make the same amount of money. Flat Income. Flat Tax. Fairness Achieved. We are all guaranteed to pay the same amount in taxes every year. This is much fairer than a Flat Tax, which only mandates that the same percentage be used. It is a foolproof solution to the problem of tax inequity.

I guess this idea isn’t really too surprising though. After all, it is really just the natural conclusion one would draw when calling for fairness in social policy. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that wealthy people would be advocating for this kind of thing. Seems a little socialist and radical to me. I’m also pretty sure it wouldn’t work very well in practice. But, hey, I don’t want to start poking holes in the logic people use to justify their stances. That would be unfair.

I think the lesson here is not to try to use fairness as an argument to a middle child, when, in fact, what you are arguing for is the right to be greedy. It is like arguing that you deserve more icing because you have more cake than anyone else. Middle children naturally see through such moves, and it makes us snarky.


John said...

And, worst of all, everybody would have to be equally productive, and everybody would have to agree on what that meant.

I think only one quantity of work satisfies that requirement.

Brownie said...


Fingtree said...

I am a 42 yr old 'snarky' middle child 2......Snarky times two!!
A trickle down flat tax introduced by a tree hugging war profiting crony is what we need, fair nuff?~