Taxing the System
By Richard Girard
"Where I am not understood, it shall be concluded that something very useful and profound is couched underneath."-Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Anglo-Irish satirist. The Tale of a Tub, Preface (1704).
"To save permanent rights, temporary sacrifices [are] necessary." - Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William Eustis, 1809.
It is always interesting to note the varying reactions to my articles when they are published on the Web. The reactions have run the gamut from finding brand new friends, to people who seem determined to engage me in a battle of wits. With the later, I have inevitably discovered that most are only half-armed, insistent on maintaining their silly talking points they have learned by rote, ignoring all arguments that start from assumptions different from their own, intentionally misunderstanding any point I make, and name-calling including terms like "socialist"- and "Marxist."-
As I have said on more than one occasion, I am a Marxist--a Groucho Marxist. I have found Groucho's observations on the human condition to be both far more illuminating and far more humane than his non-uncle Karl, who had no sense of humor. Otherwise, I am a devout disciple of Jefferson, Madison, Paine, Lincoln, FDR, Gandhi, and King.
I believe in capitalism, but in a regulated capitalistic system. Unregulated, free market capitalism reminds me of leaving your favorite pet dog in the chicken coop to protect the chickens, while you go away for a three day weekend. No matter how well, trained, no matter how well behaved your dog is, it is almost a given that Fido will have egg on his face and pinfeathers in his whiskers when you get back, even if no chickens are missing. Free market capitalism has never, in the long term, worked to the advantage of the majority of citizens in any nation. It has invariably led to the rich getting richer, and everyone else (including the government) getting poorer. Finally, an economic collapse--like the one we are currently experiencing--ends the experiment.
To return to my point about the half-armed folk who wish to challenge me to a battle of wits, one person's reaction to my recent article published on OpEdNews.com ("Illuminating Dichotomies,"- September 19, 2008) is a recent case in point.
John Steinsvold sent me a message to my mailbox at OpEdNews.com, suggesting that I read an article of his, "Home of the Brave?"- that had been published on americandaily.com (http://americandaily.com/article/12389) in March of 2006. I initially thought this was an attack; a piece suggesting that we create a moneyless society, to contrast "Dichotomies"- message on selfishness. His article seemed to take the form of a satirical attack on Groucho's non-uncle Karl, and Marx's dictum of "each according to his ability, each according to his needs."-
Further investigation leads me to conclude that his article is a fully satiric "utopian"- vision, in the finest tradition of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
In his satiric little monograph however, he makes one of the classic, common errors when you are dealing with the English language; he conflates the words "fair"- and "equal."- This is a common mistake, often made by people who want to use one of the words to stigmatize the other. I do not know if this was Mr. Steinsvold's intent. However, his little monograph simply tells me that he did not understand what he thought he read in my article.
While fair and equal are often thought of as identical terms, the reality is that they are quite different in their original use. The word "fair"- originally meant "Of pleasing appearance, especially because of a pure or fresh quality."- The word has added the following three definitions, appropriate to our discussion, over the years: "Having or exhibiting a disposition that is free of favoritism or bias, impartial, just to all parties, equitable; Being in accordance with relative merit or significance; Consistent with rules, logic, or ethics ."-
Equal has a different original meaning: "Having the same quantity, measure, or value as another."- It has added several additional definitions over the years, including: "Having the same privileges, status, or rights; Impartial; just; equitable."-
A quick example will hopefully spell out the difference between being equal and being fair. I will use a simplified version of the proposed "flat tax"- to make my point.
The current "poverty line"- for a family of four is, according to the Federal Government, approximately $30,000.00 per year. If you have a Federal flat tax of fifteen percent, that effects everyone equally, that family of four (without the benefit of deductions, earned income credit, etc.) will be $4,500.00 beneath the poverty line, rather than right at it. That family will have to do without some part of their accustomed standard of living, in order to make ends meet. Healthcare, clothing, quality food, education, transportation; any of these could be reduced to substandard levels in order to pay a flat tax that effects everyone "equally."-
A fair or "progressive"- tax would, on the other hand, take into account such things as poverty lines. That same family under a truly progressive tax system--and the United States does not currently have such a system--would pay zero Federal income tax. The richest Americans should, on the other hand, pay the highest tax rate, at least fifty percent of their income over $10,000,000.00 per year. This in no way would effect their ability to satisfy their basic needs as human beings; only the degree of luxury which they could indulge themselves in. It is only fair that those with the most to lose should pay the most to the system of government whose laws and courts make the creation of their wealth possible.