Friday, February 03, 2012

Taxes and fairness

Suppose I'm a surgeon pulling down six figures. Perhaps doing my fair share is to pay 33% of my income in taxes. But, hey, wait! My sister, who could have been a surgeon, chose instead to make pottery in a little hippie arts colony. She makes only as much as she needs to get by, works relatively short hours, smokes a lot of weed with her artist friends, and pays no federal income tax at all! If paying 33% of the money I make saving lives is doing my fair share, then it's hard to see how my sister—who could have been a surgeon, or some kind of job- and/or welfare-creating entrepreneur—is doing hers. But if she is doing hers, just playing with clay out there in the woods, benefiting next to no one, paying no taxes, then clearly I'm doing way more than my fair share. Which seems, you know, unfair.
Good perspective. This blog raised a related point last year:
If [Steve] Jobs ever owed a debt to society, is is perfectly reasonable to think it has already been paid. The products he has helped introduce to society have served to boost productivity and enjoyment for literally millions of people. How many of us can say the same? This is not to suggest that Jobs has been engaging in charity, but let us also recognize how so many of us have benefited from his initiative and hard work. The Jobs story is not unique.
Let us remember that most wealth is acquired through the provision of some good or service that generates value to society (most common profession among the top 1 percent: doctor). It's an aspect of the tax/fairness debate that is often overlooked. 

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