Minnesota’s “Fair Share” Stare Down

In a Star Tribune interview last week, Governor Mark Dayton said he would continue to fight to make Minnesota’s tax code more progressive, to ensure the wealthy pay their “fair share.”

Since the mainstream media often limits itself to journaling the predictable partisan ping ponging – “Democrats cheered, Republicans jeered” — it’s worth a quick look at the substance behind Dayton’s assertion.

Of course, “fair share” depends on individual values. To me, “fair share” means wealthy Minnesotans should pay a slightly higher percentage of their income to support their community than middle and lower income citizens. Not 50% more than the poor and middle class, but something like 5% more.

I realize not all of my fellow Minnesotans share that viewpoint. But judging from the polls finding overwhelming support for increasing income taxes on the wealthy, I’m assuming that for the majority of Minnesotans “fair share” means the wealthy should at least pay a proportion of their income in taxes that matches what the non-wealthy pay. As this chart shows, even that minimum fairness threshold is not being met in Minnesota:

Chart 1

When you take property, sales, business and income taxes into account, as Chart 1 does, the wealthy are paying not paying a higher percentage than the rest of Minnesotans. They are not even paying an equivalent percentage. Wealthy Minnesotans are actually paying a lower percentage of their incomes in taxes than non-wealthy Minnesotans.

At this point, conservatives say “but poor people pay little to no INCOME TAX, so leave the wealthy alone.” In other words, they isolate the argument on one tax only, the progressive income tax, and use that as their evidence that the wealthy are paying their fair share.

That’s like asserting that the Vikings are a better team than the Packers, based on the fact that the Vikings Jared Allen is a better player than the Packer’s Jarius Wynn. As Minnesotans are painfully aware, a football team is about more than just one player, just as a taxation system is about more than just one tax. Teams and tax systems both must be judged in their totality, because both function as a unit and have collective impacts.

Chart 2

The reason wealthy Minnesotans are paying a lower percentage of their income in taxes than the non-wealthy (Chart 1) is that our system has several regressive taxes and only one progressive tax (Chart 2), which makes the overall impact of the entire tax system regressive.

Therefore, the “no new taxes” pledge is a nifty way to lock in the significant advantage wealthy Minnesotans enjoy in the current state tax system.

– Loveland

50 thoughts on “Minnesota’s “Fair Share” Stare Down

  1. PM says:

    Joe:

    generally, i agree with you, and, specifically, i agree with you that the rich should pay more in taxes. There is a problem, though, that has to be overcome in order to get the public to support this proposition. That is the public perception that government is the problem.

    those taxes, of course, go to government, for government programs to address real problems. So we (advocates of higher taxes on the rich) have to convince the public of several things:
    1). the rich are not paying their fair share (a basic justice argument, which i think has been successfully done already)
    2). there is a need for government programs to address the issues of poverty, inequality, etc. (again, I think that this has been done)
    3). that government is capable and effective at implementing both the new taxes and the programs. This has not yet been done.

    In fact, i think that this has been the most successful of the conservative arguments. See this:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/liberalisms-problem-in-one-graph/2011/08/25/gIQAVuVTqO_blog.html

    Basically, it points out that people generally see the problem in our society as big government, not big business. Oh, and they do not see big labor as a problem at all (at least we really don’t have to worry about that argument).

    I have to admit, that as we are still feeling the effects this recession, caused by the financial implosion and mortgage fraud, that people still seem to place more trust in the likes of JP Morgan than they do in the federal government.

    So, as a communications specialist, how would you go about addressing this issue?

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Opposition to government is definitely out there, but it’s not nearly as deep as the conventional wisdom supposes.

      For instance, in this recent Star Tribune poll only 8% want to target spending cuts at health care for poor, old and disabled, the preferred spending cut target of conservatives and by far the largest category in the state budget. 8%. And this is the category most targeted by the right. Only 13% support targeting aid to local governments. These are very low numbers.

      The Republican Legislature is not exactly riding a tidal wave of support here. Minnesotans support spending cuts in the abstract (though they want them coupled with tax increases), but when forced to go line-by-line, they usually support government.

      So on the spending side of the discussion, my communications strategy would be to relentlessly portray the SPECIFIC HUMAN IMPACTS from SPECIFIC CUTS. It’s not about “cutting DHS.” It’s about “cutting sick seniors who worked hard their whole life.”

      On the revenue side of the discussion, my strategy would be to stress the unfairness of the wealthiest Minnesotans paying a lower proportion of their income than average Minnesotans.

      The polls show overwhelming support for both arguments, so just keep hammering them home.

      Finally, I’d start calling the “No New Taxes Pledge” what it truly is, a “Protect the Rich Pledge,” a gimmick to lock down the wealthy’s privileges in the current tax code. The MTL has marketed the heck out of its pledge, and the left has to counter-market to break down support for it. They have to convert the pledge from a political asset to a political liability, and I actually think that’s possible to do with a concerted campaign.

  2. PM says:

    Just ran across this column by Ezra Klein:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/column-obamas-last-chapter-problem–and-ours/2011/08/25/gIQAuMUkrO_blog.html#pagebreak

    He is calling for Obama to pivot and follow more closely on Teddy Roosevelt, to clean up Washington by going after corporate special interests, lobbyists, corruption in Washington and corporate personhood.

    I think that would be pretty powerful. especially if Newt is the republican candidate. Of course, it would work against Romney as well.

  3. I don’t know that wealthiness, per se, should be the criterion. There’s productive wealth, and there’s idle wealth. How about an Idle Hands tax? Or Inertia tax?

    That is, if you’re just sitting on it, it gets taxed to pieces. If you’re using it to expand productivity (in the state) and create jobs (in the state) then you get cut tax slack.

    1. Erik says:

      Because, money and assets are fungible, and there isn’t a distinction between idle and productive assets that you can build differing tax treatments around. That’s why.

  4. Newt says:

    LOVELAND: “Wealthy Minnesotans are actually paying a lower percentage of their incomes in taxes than non-wealthy Minnesotans.”

    A brilliant revelation. I would add that this also holds true for bread, milk, cars, cable TV, underwear, beer, cigarettes, gasoline, sports tickets, electricity, housing, bicycles, hardware …

    The wealthy pay a lower percentage of their income for all things. Why should taxation be any different?

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Newt, it’s true that I pay a much lower percentage of my income for bread, milk, etc. than people in poverty, which means I have more ability to pay to support my community than people in poverty. Likewise, the wealthy pay a lower percentage of their income for bread, milk, etc. than I do, which means they have more ability to pay to support their community than I do. A progressive tax system taxes according to ability to pay, and polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support that type of taxation system.

  5. Bill G says:

    From the tone of these replies, I suspect the characters I’m keying in and the time I’m taking to do so are wasted, but hope runs eternal…

    The wealthy DO pay more in taxes than the less wealthy. To suggest that they don’t by basing your argument on a percentage of income argument may justify your ‘progressive’ viewpoint, but there is no possible way to support your position. The top 10% of wage earners pay almost all of the cost of government.

    As a percentage of income, yes, those with less pay a higher percentage of their personal income to the government. They also use vastly more of the services of government. They also pay a higher percentage of their income for food, for clothing, for housing. They have less disposable income. The sales tax is a very regressive tax in that people with more money don’t need to spend all of it, therefore escaping payment of sales tax.

    Progressives then make the argument that because people need services, government has an obligation to step in and satisfy those needs. For a very few truly disadvantaged, I agree that society has a moral obligation to help. But for the majority of people with needs, they must be held responsible for doing what it takes to satisfy those needs themselves, with little or no societal assistance. If we as a society provide the sustenance sufficient to remove the sharp pain of poverty from those who need that motivation to better themselves, then we entrap those individuals, and their children, in a dependent state. This has been the unfortunate result of the “New Deal” welfare state.

    I learned faster not to put my hand on the hot stove from the pain of the touch than I did from my loving mother’s verbal instruction. We need to demand more of the poor and middle class – more effort, more education, more work.

    Why do we rail against the wealthy, the very people who continue to work hard despite all of the obsticles thrown in their way, for their success while celebrating and sympathising with those who are unwilling to do so?

  6. Erik says:

    It’s worse than that.

    Because their earnings are higher, those in the top decile have a greater ability to not spend all their income (we call this “savings”). But income not spent is income shielded from sales taxes. And although you can’t say top earners don’t pay meaningful taxes or a lot of taxes, you can with this income tax / sales tax conflation produce a statistic in which they are shown to have a very slightly lighter effective rate. Because they don’t have to spend all their earnings.

    It’s not a good measurement, and the effective rate distortion is not fixable by what’s been proposed. It’s math illiterate at best and at worse a lie. Yet we’re all supposed to feel guilted over it, as if we don’t actually have progressive taxation.

    This is, again, a back patting exercise for the happy to pay crowd. It’s a cheap indulgence.

  7. Joe Loveland says:

    A reduction in the top tax rate has contributed to the growing income gap between the richest Americans and ordinary Americans. As Poltifact notes, “effective tax rates for high-earning Americans are either at their lowest level since 1960 or at least very close to their lowest level.”

    Tax policy over the last half century helped broaden the gap between the wealthy and non-wealthy, so obviously tax policy could help narrow the gap.

    1. Erik says:

      A contributor? How much has it contributed? What are the other contributors? Can you name them? Are we not then obligated to remediate the other contributors, even if the remedies are at odds with liberal orthodoxy? And we should attempt to remedy a condition that exists within a macro economic environment by adjusting Minnesota tax policy?

      Conservatives often will tell affluent liberals they can demonstrate their sincerity by remitting additional checks to the government. The collective action problem posed is real, so you’re off the hook as a practical matter. Not morally though. To liberals, wealth inequality has surpassed racism as the greatest sin. If you’re enjoying significant tax / financial advantages by virtue of your income status then you are quite certainly guilty of some venality, the immorality of which is akin to enjoying the fruits of slaveholding. How is it that you’re not voluntarily paying more than you have to then? Aren’t you a hypocrite?

      Yours is a very weak argument for tax policy. It’s an exercise in self affirmation / adulation.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        Erik, you’re a very smart fellow, and valued Crowdy. Do you really dispute that tax rates impact net income, and ultimately wealth?

        When income tax rates are decreased, net income increases, which impacts the ability to accumulate wealth. So when tax rates are decreased more for the rich than the non-rich, the wealth disparity gap grows. It’s one very big contributor. If it’s not a big contributor, why do people get so freaked out every time a change in tax rates is discussed?

        Obviously, many other things contribute to the growing wealth gap — technology, globalization, de-unionization, disparate ability to participate in stock market, etc. But I’m looking at tax policy factor in this post, because that is something the democracy collectively shapes.

      2. Jim Leinfelder says:

        “To liberals, wealth inequality has surpassed racism as the greatest sin.”

        Really? It’s not been my impression that wealth inequality per se is the issue, but per quod; that is to say it’s the fact that the thoroughly gamed political/public policy/economic system that so favors financial inequality that many find concerning, most of whom are, of course, not wealthy, and can’t so expediently remedy the problem, as you suggest, by cutting Treasury a check for difference.

        http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2008/~/media/CFF85818FBB34CF695503470B623EB31.ashx

      3. Erik says:

        I’ve never asserted there is or can be no impact. I do assert the minor changes and small high end rate hikes that constitute the conventional liberal position will not actually mitigate the income / wealth gap. As such, it’s an insincere argument. But it’s supposed to be insincere, because what the discussion actually represents is a secular indulgence that affluent liberals can purchase (verbally, not commercially) to demonstrate that they are ‘good people.’ Again, if you enjoy the benefits of a statistical inequity by virtue of your income vis a vis its relative lack of taxation, how is it you are not voluntarily paying more taxes than you have to? You’re immorally taking an unfair benefit. Talk is cheap, it would be the moral thing to do. Why aren’t you doing it?

        I understand a rational exists for taxation as the preferred choice in redressing income inequity. The point there are not single causes, but you’re comfortable narrowing in on the single rationale that allows the Democrats to scratch their chronic tax itch.

      4. Erik says:

        Newsflash. Conservatives think the system is a bit gamed. I think the system is a bit gamed. A couple basis points on personal income tax rates does not solve the gaming. Which is why this is insipid. I’ll speak for my conservative brethren to the extent I can. That’s why they find it insipid. It’s posturing, and it’s completely transparent.

        Carried interest and partnership income needs to be changed. This is very simple to understand and explain (..I’m not a tax pro). The public is already for it. So I do not understand being guilted / feinted with some bullshit narrative on income inequality. I am skeptical of people who tell this story.

  8. the regressives taxes discussed above are viewed by the author as unfair. so let us run through an example to make surei understand that view. for this purpose assume that my annual income is 50,000 and my neighbor’s annual income is $100,000.

    sales tax: my neighbor and i each purchase the exact same model of car. we each pay $500 dollars in sales tax. the sales tax paid by me is 1% of my income, but for my neighbor the sales tax is .5% of his income. how is this unfair?

    this is also true of everything else that we purchase, why is the % of income a relevant measure? % of income is a bogus measure for this purpose. regressive taxes are fair, indeed progressive taxes are unfair.

    as one earns more money, one will have more left over after the necessities of life (including government) are purchased. this is entirely the point of economic betterment and providing for oneself, one’s family, and successive generations. how is this bad?

    the income tax is already progressive enough, the morality of someone paying (being forced to pay) a different rate of tax on their earnings utterly escapes me. i do understand the morality of voluntarily distributing one’s own wealth to help others. to have the government force me to do that via government charity programs is immoral. i am for “minimum” safety nets, beyond that, let charities be charities – which is not a siutable role for government.

    in the U.S. antebellum south, and currently in other places around the globe, some people had 100% of the fruits of their labor stolen from them. we called it, and still call it, slavery. if greater than 50% of the fruit of one’s labor is confiscated, what is that called? at what % of confiscation can we call it slavery 60%? 70%? 80%?

    what progressive of rate of tax is appropriate for the highest income earners?

  9. Newt says:

    So much for Obama and the whole GITMO faux outrage by liberals. I knew that as a lie. Freakin’ hypocrites…

    ‘Indefinite Detention’ of American Citizens Bill Heads To Obama’s Desk As White House Drops Veto Threat

    Paul Joseph Watson
    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    UPDATE: Obama has dropped his threat to veto the bill and is now expected to sign it into law. Remember – it was Obama’s White House that demanded the law apply to U.S. citizens in the first place.

    The bill which would codify into law the indefinite detention without trial of American citizens is about to be passed and sent to Obama’s desk to be signed into law, even as some news outlets still erroneously report that the legislation does not apply to U.S. citizens.

    “The House on Wednesday afternoon approved the rule for the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), setting up an hour of debate and a vote in the House later this afternoon,” reports the Hill.

    Mainstream news outlets like The Hill, as well as neo-con blogs like Red State, are still pretending the indefinite detention provision doesn’t apply to American citizens, even though three of the bill’s primary sponsors, Senator Carl Levin, Senator John McCain, and Senator Lindsey Graham, said it does during speeches on the Senate floor.

    “It is not unfair to make an American citizen account for the fact that they decided to help Al Qaeda to kill us all and hold them as long as it takes to find intelligence about what may be coming next,” remarked Graham. “And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them, ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer.’”

    As Levin said last week, it was the White House itself that demanded Section 1031 apply to American citizens.
    “The language which precluded the application of Section 1031 to American citizens was in the bill that we originally approved…and the administration asked us to remove the language which says that U.S. citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section,” said Levin, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

    Senator McCain also told Rand Paul during a hearing on the bill that American citizens could be declared an enemy combatant, sent to Guantanamo Bay and detained indefinitely, “no matter who they are.”

    Quite how those still in denial could even entertain the notion that the bill would not apply to American citizens when the Obama administration is already enforcing a policy of state assassination and killing American citizens it claims are “terrorists,” without having to present any evidence or go through any legal process, is beyond naive.

    With the White House having largely resolved its concerns with the bill, which had nothing to do with the ‘indefinite detention’ provision, Obama could put pen to paper as early as tomorrow on a law that if recognized will nullify the bill of rights – ironically tomorrow is “Bill of Rights Day”.

  10. Erik says:

    Joe, you like to pull that chart out of your back pocket at times when you have an opportunity to make this emotional argument. I vaguely recall over the past year a post in which I looked at decile 1 and commented that had to be bogus, the result of statistical distortion. Then someone from DOR joined the discussion and confirmed that very thing, that decile 1 was not a good illustrator of anything.

    The more specific question would be, is safety net eligibility lost with higher income being counted as ‘taxes’ in that measurement? This would have the effective of padding the effective tax rate of those in several of the lower deciles.

    This is a common thread among progressivity studies that are done nationally, so I think it’s it possible (likely?) this is being done here (maybe the actual cause of the wild distortion in decile 1). And if it is, I’d say that’s… I don’t know… ORWELLIAN… maybe. But in any case you and like-minded would be obligated to characterize your chart differently, as it would not actually be a measurement of “TAX” progressivity.

    So, we’ll start there. Is safety net eligibility lost with higher income being counted as ‘taxes’ in that measurement?

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Re: “looked at the decile 1” and found it to be bogus

      Agreed, and that’s why I compare the tenth decile to the statewide average (see red box on chart) and the middle deciles, and not the first decile. As I wrote, “Wealthy Minnesotans are actually paying a lower percentage of their incomes in taxes than non-wealthy Minnesotans.” I didn’t say “…than the poorest Minnesotans,” and I didn’t box the first decile in the chart, because I know the study authors have acknowledged problems at the lowest level.

      In other words, you’re railing against a contention that I didn’t make here.

      Re: The old reliable “this emotional argument” indictment

      “This emotional argument” in this post is data based, with charts and a link to one of the most well respected studies of its type in the nation from a non-partisan source. Pick at the data if you like — totally fair game — but to suggest the argument is a poorly emotional argument with no factual component isn’t fair.

      Moreover, do you have counter evidence showing that the wealthiest Minnesotans are paying a higher PROPORTION of their income in taxes than the non-wealthy, when ALL taxes are considered? If you have no such data, couldn’t you be considered to be making a data-free emotional argument?

      Finally, if arguing that the wealthy should pay more is an “emotional argument” that should be dismissed as such, why isn’t arguing that the wealthy should pay less an “emotional argument?”

      1. Erik says:

        Well, for starters, I reject the premise that the income tax has to be progressive in a way that ameliorates the regressivity of other taxes. It’s doesn’t. So what I would acknowledge about the attributes of your preferred statistic is immaterial. We have a progressive income tax, here and nationally.

        I’d further argue that your fairness argument is in fact subjective and arbitrary. Someone who is taxed at 35% rates is not literally at an advantage over someone taxed at 25%. Thus you’re usurping facts with a value judgment. It might as well be an emotional argument, because it’s not a quantitative one.

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        Whether the elected representatives Erik supports carry the day or the representatives I support carry the day, the decision our representative democracy make about how much various groups in society will pay in taxes is ALWAYS a calculation about fairness that has emotions and values underpinning it. To suggest otherwise is fantasy. There is no single quantitatively-based Truth about what a fair tax system is and is not. “Fair share” is not derived through a mathematical proof; it’s a values-based determination that our democracy collectively makes. And polls suggest I’m not alone in thinking that fairness dictates the wealthy should be asked to pay a larger proportion of their income to support their country.

      3. Erik says:

        Right on. It’s not quantitatively unfair. It’s perhaps subjectively unfair, and your charts are not that illustrative..

        But even in the realm of subjectivity there are ways to suss out hard truths. Which is why I asked, why aren’t you remitting larger tax payments than you are required to? Because if the amount you are paying is not fair, then you are free riding the system. That’s immoral. As far as ‘sins’ go, free riding the tax system can be compared to enjoying the fruits of slaveholding. Or merely mooching. But in any event other people are paying your way.

        And I’m not being remotely facetious. It’s a true if statement. I don’t expect that earnest liberals (or earnest conservatives) would cynically free ride the tax system. So the alternative is that it’s not really that ‘unfair’ that your already meaningful and high taxes are not higher. Thus this particular movement is guilty of some gross language misuse and demagoguery.

        So why aren’t you remitting larger tax payments than you are required to? Why do earnest liberals do this dance of professing willingness to pay more while taking their books and receipts to accountants?

    1. Festus says:

      Patience, Jim. Sooner or later BillG or one of the other guest lecturers will stop by to explain how the parrot they’re selling really isn’t dead.

  11. Erik says:

    That’s a good essay, one I hadn’t seen, and it does actually contain a response to the free rider problem. So I will accept your rebuttal via link. Unfortunately, his response to the free rider problem is to restate the collective action problem. I’m inclined to think that’s bogus. But I’ll think about it.

  12. Erik says:

    Page 22 tax incidence study

    “Tax policy can certainly affect the degree of regressivity, but it is difficult to identify tax changes that are large enough to move the Suits index by as much as it has moved over the last 20 years. Trends in income inequality are certainly responsible for much of the pattern shown above.”

    Translation: Minnesota tax code has not caused income inequality.

    Page 28

    “The results show that the individual income tax was very progressive, while the three remaining taxes were generally regressive. Because the progressive individual income tax accounted for over one-third of the total tax burden, it offsets most of the regressivity of the other state and local taxes.”

    There ya go Joe. Mission accomplished, already done. The income tax offsets the regressivity of other taxes.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      On p. 22 “Tax policy can certainly affect the degree of regressivity” part jumps out at me.

      On p. 28, the words “”offsets most of the regressivity” jumps out at me.

      I’m looking to use new income tax rates to offset all of the regressivity. Contary to the hyperbole, I’m not looking to level society. As I said in the post, 5% shift in income tax rates at the top, not a 50% shift.

      1. Erik says:

        Where does the mitigation of income inequality come in then, which you stated before should be a goal of the tax code? To mitigate income inequality is to level.

        I think the affluent can pay more… because that’s where the money is and they can afford it. The income inequality argument is the weakest way to support your proposal. Too Marxist. That’s one reason its been unpersuasive.

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        Erik, obviously, an adjustment of the income tax system by a few percentage points in the progressive direction is qualitatively much different than full scale Marxist leveling. To claim those two things are equivalent is silly.

      3. Erik says:

        That’s not what I’m speaking to. Are you in support of redressing income inequality through the tax code or are you not? Because if you’re not, than you should really stop using it as a
        point in whatever argument you want to make about tax progressivity.

  13. Joe, a couple thoughts:

    1) I think there is a subjective truly “fair” amount or rate of taxes everyone should pay. income tax – everyone should pay the same rate on their income. transaction taxes (sales tax, etc.) everyone should pay the same rate applied to the size of the transaction. fees (license fees, etc.) everyone pays the same fee. value-based taxes (property tax, etc.) everyone should pay the same rate upon the value of the item. In the aggregate, this will produce results similar to what is in the Tax Incidence Study (or likely even less “fair” by your standards) but each tax is fair. indeed the aggregation is simply not relevant

    2) the fact that a majority might believe that taxing the “rich” more is fair does not make it so, nor does it make it moral.

    3) when assessing fairness, no commenter here nor indeed the Tax Incidence Study itself, compares the amount of tax paid versus the value of government services received by each taxpaying decile. how can fairness be properly examined without even attempting to assess this question – which is the other side of the equation. to assess fairness, it is not important just how much one pays but always how much one receives in return. i suspect if this question was addressed the amount of services received by the lower deciles is a much greater share of their taxes paid than for the higher deciles.

  14. actually in #1) above i meant “objective” not subjective. one may surmise this a Freudian slip – i have no witty reply for that observation. though i do truly believe in the objective rubric for fairness that i decribed above.

    1. “…because that’s where the money is and the money is needed.” please tell how this is not a reflection of the basest instincts of humans – pure mob mentality indeed. Let’s go plunder those who have, without any regard as to whether that is moral or not. i also reject the use of the word “needed.” the need of the state is truly subjective, and subjectively overreaching at this point in Minnesota and the USA. most of the “needed” money is really “wanted” not needed.

      1. Erik says:

        Right. I have more sympathy for those sentiments than you know, but the morality of taxation is a settled argument. Taxation is moral. So this is not undertaken with no regard. It’s a matter of how much, and that is what the political process decides. And it is not out of the question that some of the wealthy in this country are undertaxed.

  15. Erik, you say it is “settled” that “taxation is moral,” though you go on to say the only question is how much? that is really the rub, correct? either of us could easily construct a taxation scheme that is immoral. tax me at 60% and tax you at 0%. is that so unfair as to be immoral? of course it is. So at the extremes, your assertion (broadly interpreted)that taxation is always fair and that is a settled fact, is absurd. it is better to say that “fair” taxation is moral. As we move away from the theoretical extremes, and toward the actual circumstances we face, I assert that progressive taxation is neither fair nor moral even as it currently exists. we should all be taxed the same dollar amount or the same % on our income, take your pick.

    when today’s political agents advocate for even more progressive taxation, i challenge them to make the moral case for that. so far no one has been very persuasive. popular sentiment (polls show…) is no argument at all. because that is where the money is, is hardly an argument either unless you assume that money got “where it is” through fraud or other unfair practices. if that is the case we already have statutes that directly address that unfairness. what are the other possible justifications for extremely progressive income taxation (plundering the rich)? Simply because politicians want to 1) expand government, 2) influence greater control over their subjects, and 3) buy more votes and power with taxpayer largesse, is no justification for further tax confiscation.

    i am all for fair taxation and limited government. we ALL need to fund necesssary government functions, rather than fund every capricious whim of the governing class.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      The rub is that we all have different values. In a democracy, values disputes are resolved through elections. Therefore, public opinion is relevant. “Fairness” is a collective calculation, not a truth that any single person determines.

      1. Of course public opinion as expressed through votes is relevant. whichever side can make the most persuasive case to the voters will prevail and thus control the government. That is hardly a revelation and also misses a of couple seminal points. 1) public opinion can represent something that is immoral – see public opinion about slavery in the antebellum South, or segregation in the last century. 2) there are limits on what governments may do, regardless of public opinion. federal and state constitutions limit what government may do even if there is popular support as voiced by public opinion. Which gets us back to my point; merely having public opinion on your side is no moral justification.

        Government should take my earnings to spend on public goods that are also consitutionally authorized expenditures. Government should not take my earnings to forcably redistribute to their select and favored constituents. If you can, please make the moral and constitutional case for that behavior.

      2. Joe, i think you’ve hit upon an interesting thought exercise. is fairness a collective calculation? are good and evil, right and wrong also collective calculations? merely relative values to be debated, sometimes in favor sometimes out of favor as popular sentiment changes? is truth an absolute or a collective calculation? does absolute truth, absolute good, or absolute evil exist or are these subjective notions to be decided upon again and again by success generations?

      3. Joe Loveland says:

        Mark, I appreciate the conversation. My perspective: Because the Mark’s and Joe’s of the world have different values that lead us to different notions of “fairness,” we need a way to resolve the dispute…because we’re just never going to convince each other. The way we resolve the dispute is representative democracy, and democracy effectively makes collective values decisions about issues like relative tax burdens.

  16. PM says:

    Festus: I like it, and more importantly, it makes the point that we have, through markmwhite’s interjections, gotten to questions of philosophy.

    All of those (absolute versus relative values, how should we conduct ourselves, etc.) are longstanding philosophical arguments, and have not been resolved in the least.

    Joe’s point is practical–we have adopted rules in our society to determine collective answers, and those rules are embodied in our republican form of government, where public opinion is determined through periodic elections, which result in laws. But those laws are also judged against other laws and constitutions (a particularly potent form of laws), and interpreted. And, of course, there is also another (third) way in which “the will of the people” gets massaged–its implementation.

    Talking about morality is, of course, simply not practical–it is ideal. Much of what goes on here is more ideal than practical, of course (makes it interesting), and that accounts for some of the arguments–practical versus ideal. Simply not resolveable. But interesting and fun.

    Sorry for the pedantic interruption. Carry on!

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