Although nothing is more certain than death and taxes, a statement popularized by Benjamin Franklin but first stated by Daniel Defoe (interestingly enough in a work titled "The Political History of the Devil"), the income tax, per se, goes back "only" to the year 10 in China and to the Civil War in the U. S.
"The rich should pay their fair share" is the mantra of Democrats and liberals.
I ask them repeatedly, "How much is fair?" The only answer I ever get is "more."
Ironically, the rich already pay more than most of the people who think they should pay more think they should pay. But when told that, these erstwhile advocates of fairness still think the rich should pay more. I suspect the emotion beneath the slogan is that nobody should have more than them. The word for that is envy.
What does "fair" mean and who decides?
It would be most fair if nobody paid any taxes. After all, is it fair for anybody or anything including the government to forcibly take your money, any of it, that you have earned or obtained by investment or any legal means, no matter how poor or how rich you are, and use it in ways someone other than you decides?
Conservatives see it this way, the government takes. Liberals see it in terms of a legal fiction. "We" "decide" to "allocate collectively." As any psychology student would instantly detect, liberals are identifying with those in power. Conservatives realize nothing divides people into us and them more starkly than differential possession of power.
For much of U.S. history there was no income tax. The federal government subsisted mostly on tariffs until the past century. Under the Articles of Confederation the federal government had no power to tax at all, and the federal income tax was unconstitutional until the passage of the sixteenth amendment in 1913.
Is it more fair to tax wealth or to tax income? Typical of everything, people, and lots of them, too ignorant to even comprehend that distinction nevertheless have and state strong opinions about taxation. Such people also vote.
Maybe it would be fair if everybody paid the same tax, $100 or $1,000 or $10,000, whatever per year everybody the same sum, equal. That would be the real "flat tax." The people who would object to that, and that would be the overwhelming majority, maybe don't really want fairness, or at least mean something different by "fair" than I do.
We tend to assume the purpose of taxation is to finance the government, but a great deal of tax law consists of social engineering. The government likes you to have children, to buy medical insurance, to buy a certain type of automobile, to own a house, and it taxes or penalizes you if you don't. Is this fair? Who decides and what are their incentives and where do they acquire the necessary knowledge, wisdom and virtue?
What is called the "flat tax" is defined as everybody paying the same percentage, 10%, 15%, 30% of annual income everybody. Except for the exceptions and everybody proposes different exceptions so again we have "fair" getting contaminated with social engineering.
The next step is the graduated tax, which liberals like to grandiosely call the "progressive" tax, where people who make more don't just pay more because they pay a percentage on a higher income, they pay more, because they also pay a higher percentage on a higher income. This is an idea that goes back to the 14th century and was quickly grafted on to the Civil War tax in this country.
It is what we have now. It is inherently social engineering. It discourages success. In extreme cases, increased effort and risk taking asymptotically approach zero rewards.
So here we are back to the eternal squabble about how steep should that graduation be and who is rich and how much more should they pay.
The logical end of this, the reductio ad absurdum (except it is no longer absurd), with steps along the way for Earned Income Credit and negative income tax, is the government takes everything everybody makes and gives back however much to whomever it decides. This is the definition of communism: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. The people who nominate themselves and their friends to do the deciding think this is the ultimate in fairness. ("Preserve us from these people" should be the universal public prayer.)
All of modern history seems to be working toward this end, no matter how consistently reality demonstrates its folly and disastrous, brutal consequences. But politics is not about prosperity and it is not about justice despite all the lies spread to collect votes from fools and contributions from knaves. It is about power, who has it and how much. "The issue is never the issue. The Revolution is always the issue," famously said the New Left when young, with fleeting callow candor. So it isn't about who pays. It is about who has the power to decide who pays.
That pretty well explains everything going on today.
Norman P. Carlson lives in Busti.