"Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them -- and then, the opportunity to choose." ~ C. Wright Mills
In my recent column Modern Oppression I discussed how I felt about the inequity of income tax. It is unfair to the poor, the rich, and everyone else in-between. I've since engaged in a related discussion on the topic of progressive taxation at JavaRanch (where the first rule is to be nice, otherwise you get censored).
In one response I posted, 'why should I pay a higher rate than someone earning, say, $50,000? 'Because I can afford it' is an answer motivated by government greed. Or socialism.' My most pointed counterattacker, however, believes 'because you can afford it' is a perfectly good reason for progressive taxation. The Poster (I'll call him TP for short) also was disturbed by my use of the term socialism, indicating that I shouldn't be calling it evil.
It's always interesting how people read far more into what you say than what's really there. If you believe in socialism, then it is indeed the motivation for progressive taxation. How that curses socialism is beyond me. Of course I believe socialism is inherently evil, but my post stated nothing of the sort.
More interesting is the certainty of TP's conviction that inequities are acceptable as long as those getting screwed can afford it. It's a great argument for workfare: forcing those receiving payments from the government to provide service in return. After all, those not working and receiving welfare checks have plenty of time on their hands. They can certainly 'afford it.'
I find workfare abhorrent. If you're going to claim to give money to people, give it to them. Demanding something in return is akin to forcing indentured servitude. Also, servants in workfare programs demonstrate their ability to provide a service. That suggests two things: that they are capable of finding their own employment, and that the workfare program unfairly competes in the marketplace. Businesses providing equivalent services are going to be undercut by their government, who can get away with providing minimal compensation to its servants.
I didn't find out whether TP thought workfare was a good idea or a bad one. But I'm going to go out on a sturdy limb and surmise that the majority of those who believe in progressive taxation are very opposed to workfare. Leftist unions appear to be the primary groups protesting workfare; they believe it is unfair and designed to be humiliating. An odd inconsistency, particularly since I consider the spirit of progressive taxation as not much different than workfare.
One thing TP and I agreed on (but that he refused to admit) is that the poor get screwed by non-income taxes. Any tax is a significant amount when you're not making much to start with. So in another posting, I listed over 25 different kinds of taxes, from telephone to gasoline to sales, that whack the poor the hardest. I can absorb these taxes easily, but those who earn little cannot. I sympathize with them.
One of my later posts included the comment, 'Tax policies centered around jealousy and resentment are a bad idea.' The worker making $30,000 is taught to resent those making more. I've seen it first-hand, even with some of my good friends. What they can't understand is why the worker making $20,000 resents them. The (predictable) TP reply to my post asked why I promoted jealousy and resentment of those taxed at a lower rate.
Many things serve to divide our country. The war in Iraq continues to divide us. The battles over public school issues such as religion and the Pledge of Allegiance divide us. The level of venom in this country increases daily, and I'm sickened by it every time I read the news and op-eds. Hysteria, hyperbole, and hatred are the flavors of the day. One could accuse me of contributing to the negativity, but I am saddened by how much we turn against each other when we should have a common enemy. My attacks are centered at those who try to control the lives of the rest of us.
Cynical curmudgeons like myself view these divisions as directly caused by our government. Were there no government control of schools, we wouldn't have the argument about the socialist indoctrination pledge of allegiance (or the Great Loyalty Oath, as I prefer to call it. Gimme eat!). Were the government not funding the arts and controlling the airwaves, we wouldn't have vitriolic discussions about what is art and what is censorship. Were the government not meddling and spewing their seed around the globe for the past 50 years, we likely wouldn't be in this current ugly war.
Income taxes make the divisions official. The government deliberately segregates us into neat financial buckets of resentment. Everyone should be happy that the Joneses, who they're trying to keep up with, get socked harder by the government.
To my opposing poster: No, I'm not promoting jealousy and resentment of those taxed at a lower rate. I am trying to compel them to understand that their government is screwing them, too. They should be resentful of the government, not me. I harbor no ill will toward those earning less and paying less taxes than me (and I've made that clear on many occasions). My beef is not with these people, it is with the government that manipulates them. Persuading them will be tough, however. Those with upward mobility don't always see that they're screwing themselves in the long run. Those demanding and sucking up undeserved benefits don't care.
TP was more than happy to promote democracy as a means for me to change things, and suggested I get involved. So here I am. I figure I can best get involved by continuing to write about these topics. I hope more people will read my diatribes and come to their senses. I continue to write my so-called representatives and other politicians, but they don't listen and they have yet to respond to me.
The fact that we're a democratic-republic compounds my fundamental problem. The 'wealthy' pay the lion's share of the income tax, yet they comprise a very small minority of the population. The truly wealthy, the JOhn KErrys of the world, can afford an increase in the income tax. What's a few hundred thousand more when you have millions? The truly wealthy also have many more means to minimize their taxes.
Unfortunately, I'm lumped in with these arrogant, powerful do-gooders--I'm in the small minority of high-percentage taxpayers. The only problem is that I'm not really rich. I have little disposable income. On the other side of the coin lie the vast majority that collectively pay a small share of the total tax burden. My voice is lost in the sea of these people demanding I pay more and more. I have little representation in my government.
The truly wealthy (not me) and the low-income-tax bracket people (not me) add up to the most power and numbers. Democracy in this case tyrannizes my minority, and the corruption of government by the wealthy only serves to make it worse.
With true redneck charm, TP ultimately suggested that I stop whining and change places with one of the millions of people clamoring to live in the United States . America : love it or leave it! Hubris is a wondrous thing.