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Dec 8th 2004

taxes and fairness


when you put it this way, it seems the only way to be fair is to tax workers less:

“What if, instead of paying taxes in money, the government forced you to work on a chain gang in order to pay taxes? If you have to work until 5PM every day, but everyone else gets to go home at noon, would that be fair?”

“Although an income tax seems like a confiscation of your money, it is really a confiscation of your time. After all, you earn your income by sacrificing your time. If you work 40 hours each week, and you pay 50% of your income in taxes, that means you work 20 hours a week for yourself and 20 hours for the government. Sure, you don’t notice, but that’s only because you spend your 20 government hours sitting at the same desk, drinking the same coffee, and talking to the same co-workers that you do during the 20 hours each week you spend working for yourself.”

“Imagine it wasn’t like that. Imagine, instead, that you worked your 20 government hours each week busting rocks on that chain gang. Some of the other folks on the chain gang only have to bust rocks for 10 hours a week, because their tax rate is 25%. You spend twice as much time on the chain gang.”

“That’s how the graduated income tax discriminates. (Proponents like calling it a “progressive” tax, because that sounds like progress, and how could progress be bad?) By setting different rates for different people, the government forces some citizens to sacrifice more of their lives on the IRS chain gang. If taxation is partial slavery, why should some slaves be more partial than others?”

“People who favor a graduated tax say it’s fair because it makes people pay more as they earn more. True, but that would be the case under a flat tax as well. Suppose there’s one tax rate, at 20%. Someone making $50,000 a year pays $10,000; another person making $250,000 pays $50,000. According to my calculations, $50,000 is more than $10,000 by about $40,000. Even under a flat tax, higher earners pay more. What progressive tax advocates really want is for the high earners to pay more than more, to penalize them for their success by making them spend disproportionately more time on the IRS chain gang. That doesn’t sound fair to me.” [link]

the above text was lifted from, which means we didn’t write it. to read another post that we didn’t write on the subject of taxes, go here.


7 Responses to “taxes and fairness”

  1. Wow, fabulous post! Even if you didn’t write it. I am an avowed-communism/socialism hater (in the Ezra Taft Benson school) but I must say I never really thought of it in these terms. When you realize it is like stealing people’s time, not just money, it is even more starkly unfair. Thanks for such an eye-opener!

  2. i really like the bt site. interesting ideas. if we didnt have taxes, what else could we do? we would have to pay for all education, all roads would be tolled, and we would be our own army. i always liked the flat tax idea while raising sales tax and other income besides work. that way, you earn what you work for, although your investments arent as good. what to do.

  3. While the argument sounds tempting, the analogy isn’t quite accurate. Some spend more time on the chain gang because they have more time to begin with. To make your illustration accurate, you would have to say that some people have 70 hours in a day to begin with, so it seems only fair that they should spend a greater percentage of their time on the chain gang. Are you really gonna argue that the utility of an hour to someone with 70 hours in a day is the same or more than someone who only has 10 hours in a day? While those who earn more pay a higher percentage of their income, the value of an extra $100 to a wealthy person doesn’t mean as much as it would to a single mother struggling to feed her children. This argument would make her spend the same proportion of the day working on the chain gang as the wealthy person.

  4. Al

    It seems to me that he is trying to say that the “government hours” are the tax rate. For example, if you have a higher tax rate you would work more “government hours” than someone who had a lower tax rate. That I’m sure it obvious, but when you look at utility as earnings per hour, that could work, couldn’t it?
    As to the having 70 hours a day, that isn’t exactly right either. Everyone works within the same time frame. It is what they decide to do within the time frame that determines how much they would be paid, and therefore how many “government hours,” they would have to work.

  5. Tiffany

    What planet can you move to in order to have a 70 hour day? Somehow, everyone I know has been stuck with 24 hour days.

  6. from your argument (and briant’s comments), kristin, i understand you to mean that while brain terminal’s view may be more equitable in one rigid way of measuring, it is not a practical alternative to our current tax code. additionally, making it fair in this one area makes it unfair in others. right? i appreciate your comment. it has certainly generated some discussion, and while your position can be charicatured to sound silly, i can see how you got there. the following is my response:

    there will always be a safety net at the bottom of the tax structure–the lowest quintile will always be able to live it’s life without spending any time on the income tax chain gang. (but my personal opinion is that things will continue to suck for everyone until social security [click here] is reformed. the program currently pockets 12.4% of every single worker’s income and puts it into a useless 1.5%-return “holding tank” until we’re retired, out of work, or dead. it actually penalizes the poor, who have no other investment options, and cheats EVERYONE out of the possibility of retiring very, very well off.)

    the other thing i thought about while reading your response is the parable of the talents [link]. why should those who may be able to strengthen the economy with their investments be forced to give their hard-earned money (or tax credits) to people who are going to spend the extra cash irresponsibly on beer and the lotto? i know a few wealthy people, and most of them work over 60 hours a week. so, yes, i suppose they have more hours to give the chain gang, after all!

    with the exception of the rockefeller kids, john kerry, and perhaps ken jennings, wealthy people generally get where they are by paying some significant price. whether it be working countless hours overtime every week and sacrificing personal and family time, living a spartan lifestyle while they get an advanced degree or start a business, or sacrificing while paying off debts accrued while in pursuit of education or business success, these people have paid their dues. is it the government’s job to assume that they were only doing it for the thrill of it all (not to live the american dream and become rich)? as allen so excellently implied before me,

    “Everyone works within the same time frame. It is what they decide to do within the time frame that determines…”

    EXACTLY! if we apply jesus’ parable of the talents to refer to the TIME we are all given (24 hours a day, 168 hours a week, 80 years in a life, etc.), i will argue that it is the person who shows greater stewardship over his/her time that should be rewarded.

  7. “People who favor a graduated tax say it’s fair because it makes people pay more as they earn more.”
    The most compelling argument I’ve heard in favor of a progressive tax is that those people who are more able to pay more should pay more. Sounds a bit communist doesn’t it? Yet, there are certain things even the most ardent capitalist wants her government to pay for. Yes, a flat tax would ensure that those who earn the most, pay the most. But, I don’t think it goes far enough. Someone making $1 million a year and someone making $30K a year should not have the same percentage of their salary taxed. For the first guy, a 30% tax on his income is a drop in the bucket – for the second 30% is the difference between just scraping by and going on welfare.

    And why is a flat tax more fair than a progressive or if you like, a graduated income tax? Just because everyone pays the same percentage of their income? By that rationale wouldn’t it be even more fair if everyone just paid the same amount? Another way to look at it is that the wealthy are reaping and enjoying more benifits from their work and living under our government and laws than the poor. If they are reaping more benifits – shouldn’t they be paying/giving back a larger chunk of their earnings?

    I also think you were a bit lax not to include George W Bush in your list of exceptions to the people who had to sacrifice for their wealth rule. The similarities between him and a child of Rockefeller seem obvious. While on this topic, though I don’t dispute that many people who are wealthy now have earned it, though can you honestly say that working a 60 week as an executive is always more difficult/stressful or requires more sacrifices than a 40 hour week as a construction or factory worker – particularly if second guy has to do 40 hours of both to make enough money to feed his children? – I think that the frequently touted upward mobility in American society is largely mythical. The rich tend to stay rich and have children who become rich while the poor tend to stay poor and have poor children. Movement between the classes is limited at best. A graduated income tax, along with an estate tax, if properly implemented, which I’m sure I don’t need to say ours is not, facilitates that movement. Isn’t that part of the American dream? Shouldn’t we support that?