Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Taxation is a moral issue

Tax deadline day. Our dance with the devil is done for another year (unless you filed an extension). How do you feel about taxes? Do you think our tax system is fair?

America’s Tax Burden Shifts Downward
The tax burden in the U.S. is shifting away from the rich, to the point where in a few years it could change from being progressive to effectively flat.
It often strikes me as inequitable, especially when I read things like this:

New Research Shows Wal-Mart Rigs the System to Skip Out on $2.3 Billion in State Taxes
Wal-Mart appears to be skipping out on its fair share of taxes that most Americans have to pay to help support state governments. New research conducted in part by a leading non-partisan, non-profit tax organization reveals that Wal-Mart avoided $2.3 billion in state income taxes, cutting its payment to state governments almost in half between 1999 and 2005.
Our state sure could use every penny of that money Wal-Mart avoids paying. I don't shop there and this just gives me one more reason not to start.

Personally, I don't mind paying taxes because I get peace of mind knowing those dollars give me protection (police, firefighters, military, public health) and they provide the infrastructure I depend on daily (roads, clean water, public education, parks, bridges).

Polls here in Michigan show most of us want these same things, but few of us are willing to pay for them. We all want something for nothing these days, but that's just not realistic. We have to change our way of looking at taxes, and we also have to change the way we tax people, especially here in Michigan.

George Lakoff believes
progressive taxation is the moral way to deal with taxation and he makes a pretty good argument in favor of it:
Taxes are part of our common wealth, what we all share. Protection and empowerment serve the common good. Because of our common wealth, we are all protected and America's empowering infrastructure is available to all. That is a fundamental America value: the common wealth should serve the common good. It benefits everyone.

Citizens are financially responsible to maintain this common wealth. If we shirked this responsibility, we could not maintain our roads, fund our schools, protect ourselves from military threats, enforce our laws, and so on. Equally importantly, we could not create prosperity for ourselves, because we would have no protection of our intellectual property, no oversight of our markets, no means to enforce our contracts, no way to educate most of our children.

Ordinary people just drive on the highways; corporations send fleets of trucks. Ordinary people may get a bank loan for their mortgage; corporations borrow money to buy whole companies. Ordinary people rarely use the courts; most of the courts are used for corporate law and contract disputes. Corporations and their investors -- those who have accumulated enough money beyond basic needs so they can invest -- make much more use, compound use, of the empowering infrastructure provided by everybody's tax money.

The wealthy have made greater use of the common good -- they have been empowered by it in creating their wealth -- and thus they have a greater moral obligation to sustain it. They are merely paying their debt to society in arrears and investing in future empowerment. [emphasis mine]
When you stop to think about it, we all pay our debt to society in arrears. Citizens who came before us paid taxes so we could be educated, have police protection, drive on decent roads, etc., so I can see why Lakoff calls progressive taxation a moral issue. Instead of paying it ahead, we're all paying it backwards for the benefit of those generations growing up behind us just as our father did, and his father did, etc., etc.


abi said...

I agree that a progressive tax rate is an issue of morality and fairness. And to help level the playing field even more, I'd like to see all deductions eliminated - personal and corporate. That's one way to stop forcing the average wage earner from subsidizing corporations like wal-mart.

Lew Scannon said...

Yes. Just like our children and grandchildren will be paying for the wars of the Bush administration.

Kathy said...

Abi, I wonder if anyone ever did a study showing just how much revenue we're losing because of all those deductions, particularly the corporate dodges and tax sheltering havens the rich depend on. I bet it's a boatload. (I still think we need to keep the IRA type deductions to encourage people to save for their golden years though.)

Lew, you're absolutely right, if our world is still here by then. The end timers are doing their best to fulfill prophecy.