No, taxes shouldn’t be a “fairness” issue

posted at 7:00 pm on January 29, 2012 by J.E. Dyer

What are we, six years old?  Taxes should pay for the costs of government.  That’s what we have taxes for.

The proper purpose of taxes is not to establish a condition of “fairness.”  It’s to pay for government:  a legislature, executive, military, police, firefighting, courts, schools.  But for 100 years now, the percentage-based income tax has been shifting public dialogue on taxes steadily away from their proper purpose, and toward increasingly juvenile arguments over “fairness,” as if the tax code is like Mom, telling Makayla to share the toys and be patient because Brendan is little.

If we let taxation be about “fairness,” rather than paying for the cost of government, the two big problems we have are defining “fairness,” and defining the role of government in promoting it.  Those questions will never be settled to the satisfaction of all.

It might seem that the first question – “what is fair?” – is the more contentious one.  We discuss it incessantly, after all.  But the more fundamental question is actually what government should be doing about fairness.  The freighted nature of our discussions about fairness is largely relieved if we assign a limited, utilitarian role to government.  It doesn’t much matter what other people think is “fair,” in a lengthy list of situations, if they can’t harness the power of the armed state to enforce it on their fellow men.

Thus, I reject the whole idea that government needs to keep an eye on the citizens’ incomes, and worry about “fairness” as if the numbers are a meaningful indicator of it.  For much of American history, no government at any level actually knew how much income individual citizens had.  That was not a problem.  It didn’t need correction.  We could do away with virtually our entire tax code, if we did away with the modern idea that government needs to know what our incomes are.

We would also do away with the various ugly arguments that pit citizen against citizen in a do-loop of unrequitable resentments.  No, childless people shouldn’t have to pay proportionally more in taxes than people with children do.  No, married people with two incomes should not have to pay a “marriage penalty” in their tax bill.  Neither demographic is battening on the other with its life choices.  But however we feel about that issue, we could avoid the argument altogether, if the tax code didn’t creep around after us inquiring into our incomes and household arrangements.

Obviously, we should all obey the law as it exists today; the point here is that we once handled these issues in a way less susceptible to demagoguery, government interventionism, and social conflict – and we could do so again.  The way to discuss the tax code is not in terms of “fairness,” as if the government should be charged with using taxation to establish conditions according to a “fairness” index, but in terms of what needs paying for and how we’re going to collect revenue for that purpose.

In our pre-16th Amendment days, the federal government collected taxes on imports, liquor, and cigarettes.  It also collected, and continues to collect, fees for various kinds of concessions, such as mining, drilling for oil and gas, cutting timber, fishing, and so forth.  State and local governments collected taxes primarily on real property.  With the automation of market transactions, sales taxes have become a widespread method of collecting revenue for state and local governments.

These methods of tax collection can be pursued without knowing what anyone’s income is or what his household arrangements are.  The first question about government knowing these things is why it needs to at all.  Taxes can be collected in different ways; it is not as though government can only tax us effectively if it knows all our financial, family, and household business.  Many things that are crimes today are crimes only because government now insists on having this information about us.

I consider it a very low-payoff proposition for conservatives to continue to debate tax “fairness” as if we are in a closed-loop system with our tax code, and no alternative is imaginable.  The mechanism of automated payroll withholding has made percentage-based income taxation convenient, but not more so than automated sales taxes, or property taxes escrowed with mortgage payments.  There are alternatives.

The real question is whether our citizenry has the maturity and largeness of mind to accept the idea of government that is not chartered to be our Mom, knowing all our business and ordering us to share the toys.  Such a government would have, for starters, a lot less to do.  It would cost us less, and be less exploitable by demagogues and special interests.  That would be OK with me – I can go the rest of my life without knowing what Bill Gates’ income is, or Warren Buffett’s, or Warren Buffett’s secretary’s.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.


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Comment pages: 1 2

Michelle spent 50000 pounds on lingerie as a good 1% person could. I guess she can spend her loot on anything she likes, but why do something that causes nausea and vomiting for most people.

galtani on January 29, 2012 at 9:44 PM

True story: Mochelle asked the salesclerk if she could try on a teddy. Clerk told her “no, but let me see if I can find a grizzly that might fit . . .”.

Rimshot!

BigAlSouth on January 30, 2012 at 6:33 AM

They have already told you how much is fair. Like a cheating husband mentions one female co-worker too much, so is this.

How many times do you have to hear $200K as the demarcation point between “fair” and “unfair”. To paraphrase Obama, “at some point you have enough money and I promise not to raise taxes on those making less then $200000.”

Next up, maximum allowable incomes.

sgmstv on January 30, 2012 at 6:54 AM

Of course taxes are about fairness! Yes, they are to pay for the costs of government, but there are fair and unfair ways to obtain that funding. Would it be fair to have only the poor pay for government? Would it be to have only the rich pay? If, not, then of course we are talking about amortizing the costs in a fair way.

The question is how we decide what is fair. To deny that fairness is the issue is ridiculous.

MJBrutus on January 30, 2012 at 7:50 AM

Fairness is the quintessential progressive metrics precisely because it can never be measured ! Besides what is fair about some people paying tax while others pay nothing ?

alQemist on January 30, 2012 at 7:52 AM

alQemist on January 30, 2012 at 7:52 AM

Precisely. It is a “liberal” issue because so many conservatives, such as Dwyer here, refuse to acknowledge that is is all about fairness and so they cede the entire discussion of what is or isn’t fair to them!

Just look at what he wrote. He starts by saying it has nothing to do with fairness and then goes on to discuss what are fair and unfair ways to go about it. Holy self-contradiction, Batman!

MJBrutus on January 30, 2012 at 7:59 AM

One would think that the government would want all of its citizens to achieve as much success as possible so that it receives increasingly stronger tax revenue streams. Promoting the public to chase their dreams is the venue the government should take, ensuring that the rule of law is applied, blindly.

Unfortunately, we do not have this any more.

I truly believe that the Democrat ideology is a cancer that must be purged from our society. Not through some violent revolution, the same way these nuts on the left salivate over the thought.

No, we conservatives, traditionalists, liberatarians, etc., who own businesses or manage shops providing products or services to the general publich should take a more humane approach: boycott them.

Do not sell, serve, or purchase from these individuals. Stop all the transactions.

They believe they are owed these things. In a free society, they are not owed anything.

Think about it, the left punishes anyone with a thought different than their own.

Killing off the supply lines will dry them out. Perhaps get a clue.

jdubya on January 30, 2012 at 8:06 AM

Of course taxes are about fairness! Yes, they are to pay for the costs of government, but there are fair and unfair ways to obtain that funding. Would it be fair to have only the poor pay for government? Would it be to have only the rich pay? If, not, then of course we are talking about amortizing the costs in a fair way.

The question is how we decide what is fair. To deny that fairness is the issue is ridiculous.

MJBrutus on January 30, 2012 at 7:50 AM

Define fair and fairness.

I’ll wait.

tom daschle concerned on January 30, 2012 at 8:17 AM

Well, Tom Daschle concerned yo are going to wait until Satan’s home turf freezes over. It is impossible to define fairness and you know it and so does MJBrutus. We are not talking fairness here. We are talking envy. In any argument you hear about ‘fairness’ substitute the word ‘envy’ or ‘envious’ and then it will all makes sense.

IdrilofGondolin on January 30, 2012 at 9:01 AM

Well, Tom Daschle concerned yo are going to wait until Satan’s home turf freezes over. It is impossible to define fairness and you know it and so does MJBrutus. We are not talking fairness here. We are talking envy. In any argument you hear about ‘fairness’ substitute the word ‘envy’ or ‘envious’ and then it will all makes sense.

IdrilofGondolin on January 30, 2012 at 9:01 AM

Exactly. And that is why the whole thing stinks to high heaven. Fairness is a term used by children and by statists. Statists are big government types who seek centralized power over darn near every aspect of life. It is no surprise that dailykos commenter mjbrutus would drop that steamy deuce here. The insincerity of it is not surprising, and ultimately it is a confession of a debased mind.

tom daschle concerned on January 30, 2012 at 9:25 AM

Just look at what he wrote. He starts by saying it has nothing to do with fairness and then goes on to discuss what are fair and unfair ways to go about it. Holy self-contradiction, Batman!

MJBrutus on January 30, 2012 at 7:59 AM

If that’s what you got out his post I urge you to return to school for some reading comprehension classes. Or perhaps English is not your native language?

Fairness is subjective, not objective. And using fairness as some sort of metric is juvenile.

Frankly I don’t think its “fair” that some asshat steals money i earn and then does a whole host of things with it most of which I strongly dissaprove.

Lets use MY definition of fair… that would only be fair.

dogsoldier on January 30, 2012 at 10:08 AM

Let’s not waste so much time trying to decide what fairness is. Fairness is playing by the same rules. Fairness is getting to keep what you have earned. Unfairness is getting what others have earned even if you use the government to do it.

Graduated income taxes are not fair. We tolerate them because they are pragmatic. Half the people not paying any taxes is not fair. Bailouts were not fair; nor is mortgage relief. Congressmen getting pensions after one term is not fair. All of these are examples of people getting special treatment. Once we go down the road of special treatment of one group over another, you are guaranteed that unfairness will abound. Should you complain about someone doing something unfair to you when at the same time, you are doing something unfair to others? Hypocrite.

reidmj@austin.rr.com on January 30, 2012 at 10:40 AM

hmmmm my post ended up in the ozone?

Of course taxes are about fairness! Yes, they are to pay for the costs of government, but there are fair and unfair ways to obtain that funding. Would it be fair to have only the poor pay for government? Would it be to have only the rich pay? If, not, then of course we are talking about amortizing the costs in a fair way.

The question is how we decide what is fair. To deny that fairness is the issue is ridiculous.

MJBrutus on January 30, 2012 at 7:50 AM

Wow you are absolutely incorrect on all counts. As Dyer correctly points out it was only the socialist liberals that started and still continue to use that subjective notion, to amazing a destructive effect.

Up until what? 1912? there WAS NO INCOME TAX. After that it was in fact applied only to the wealthy until FDR introduced the general income tax, because the government was broke due to his policies and failures.

What I think is “fair” is that its wrong to steal from me for any reason whatsoever. The government existed and functioned well enough before the socialists got their hands on it and we need to unwind all the layers of crap they applied since then.

We cant afford it.

Here is a thought. You go out to dinner dutch treat with four friends and decide to go dutch. Do you divide the bill equally or do you ask for separate checks?

Do you pay for your friend who works at a minimum wage job? Do you ask your wealthier friend to pay for your own meal?

I don’t. They pay for their own and I usually ask for a separate check. (Although if I’m flush and in a good mood, I may pick up the check myself.) My friends expect to pay for their own dinner and I never make them pay for mine.

dogsoldier on January 30, 2012 at 10:46 AM

Of course taxes are about fairness! Yes, they are to pay for the costs of government, but there are fair and unfair ways to obtain that funding. Would it be fair to have only the poor pay for government? Would it be to have only the rich pay? If, not, then of course we are talking about amortizing the costs in a fair way.

The question is how we decide what is fair. To deny that fairness is the issue is ridiculous.

MJBrutus on January 30, 2012 at 7:50 AM

Let’ see, fair is everyone pays. Fair is agreeing that we only pay the Gov for what the Gov is paid to do and charity is up to each person. That’s what fair is.

Why is that an issue or in question at all?

landowner on January 30, 2012 at 11:02 AM

I liked Judas better when he just outsourced jobs by the thousands, avoiced paying taxes, hid his money in offshore accounts and just screwed all of us with his obsession on profit. His lack of ethics and morals was at least understandable since he couldn’t ever make enough money to slake his thirst for silver.

Since he’s decided that even the above activities don’t bring him the return he needs and now tells us all how to live and be subservient to us he’s gone down to an even lower form of life than he was. He’s battling with Soro’s for the right hand spot of Satan and probably going to win it.

acyl72 on January 30, 2012 at 11:09 AM

Every time I see this photo I’m reminded by Communism’s quote that Capitalists will sell(make?) the rope to hang themselves with.

Bob in VA on January 30, 2012 at 11:20 AM

Very well said JE Dyer. We are not six years old, needing our mother to root out the sin of envy between siblings, helping us to mature into responsible, loving adults.

Mrs.Scott on January 30, 2012 at 11:43 AM

Obama has a definition of fairness.. My definition is different from his. The purpose of taxes is to provide services to all citizens, such as fire, police, military, judicial and the government bureaucrats needed to oversee those services. If those services are equal to all, then the only fair approach is equal payments by all. Otherwise, the definition is the issue, and related to just how much power the government takes on.

dahni on January 30, 2012 at 11:48 AM

Fairness is subjective, not objective. And using fairness as some sort of metric is juvenile.

Frankly I don’t think its “fair” that some asshat steals money i earn and then does a whole host of things with it most of which I strongly dissaprove.

Lets use MY definition of fair… that would only be fair.

dogsoldier on January 30, 2012 at 10:08 AM

Of course it’s a subjective measure! D’uh!

There’s no avoiding that fact. There’s only the avoidance of discussion of it, but in so doing one only lets the other side define it unchallenged. You just provided a perfect example while at the same time denying you did so. That is the kind of inanity that comes from failing to discuss it forthrightly.

It is unfair for some asshat to steal your money via taxation or by any other means. So let’s talk about what is fair and why rather than pretend that fairness is not the central issue.

MJBrutus on January 30, 2012 at 4:54 PM

Fairness is subjective, not objective. And using fairness as some sort of metric is juvenile.

Frankly I don’t think its “fair” that some asshat steals money i earn and then does a whole host of things with it most of which I strongly dissaprove.

Lets use MY definition of fair… that would only be fair.

dogsoldier on January 30, 2012 at 10:08 AM

Of course it’s a subjective measure! D’uh!

There’s no avoiding that fact. There’s only the avoidance of discussion of it, but in so doing one only lets the other side define it unchallenged. You just provided a perfect example while at the same time denying you did so. That is the kind of inanity that comes from failing to discuss it forthrightly.

It is unfair for some a$$hat to steal your money via taxation or by any other means. So let’s talk about what is fair and why rather than pretend that fairness is not the central issue.

MJBrutus on January 30, 2012 at 4:55 PM

dogsoldier on January 30, 2012 at 10:46 AM

Why shouldn’t the government confiscate ever dime you make via taxation and let others off the hook? Hmm. Let me think about that. Why? Why oh why?

I know, BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE UNFAIR!

MJBrutus on January 30, 2012 at 5:10 PM

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