As so often happens. Christian Schneider’s premise from which he builds an “argument” is wrong. And starting from a false premise leads, almost inevitably, to a false conclusion, doesn’t it?
In his most recent column, arguing for (I think) eliminating tax loopholes, Mr. Schneider claims, “progressives think earnings belong to the government, and the government then allows you to keep what it decides is fair. And if a taxpayer betrays this capricious determination of “fairness,” then sanctions must be issued.”
No, no, and no. I consider myself progressive, but I certainly don’t believe that earnings belong to the government. I also don’t believe that the government makes a decision about what is “fair” to keep. I do believe in sanctions if a taxpayer fails to follow the law, but not because of a “betrayal” of a determination of fairness.
1. Earnings belong to the individual, but as a country, we have determined that an appropriate way to pay for goods and services used in common (aka, public goods) is through taxation of earnings. This is part of the compact that members of this society, through their representatives in Congress and their state legislatures, have undertaken. We pay for government and government services by willingly taxing ourselves.
So no, earnings do not belong to the government. WE have agreed to pay a portion of our earnings to the government, through taxation, to pay for goods and services in common use.
I note that Mr. Schneider does not refer to *unearned* income, such as that derived from the sale of stock and various other instruments, etc. We have also agreed that that income is taxed, but at a lower rate.
2. The government, through legislation, sets tax policy to achieve particular policy ends. Some are as mundane as paying for schools and roads. Some are particularized, and focus on enhancing individual industries. Most tax policy these days results from the encouragement of lobbyists who manage to convince a sufficient number of legislators that their employer deserves a tax break of some kind. No progressive would consider the current mode of determining tax liability to be fair.
The progressivity of the income tax, although limited, is supposed to recognize that those with more income can literally pay more to support government and public goods. Those with more income may also use more public goods as well, not, of course, through supports like SNAP or assistance for child care, but through tax subsidies to their businesses, agricultural subsidies, taking advantage of the infrastructure that helps them live in suburban heaven rather than in the city close to their workplace, and so on. And needless to say, those with more income have better access to the legislators who write the tax policy that could benefit them. So “fairness” is not really a word to describe our system of taxation.
3. Taxpayers who do not follow the law are subject to sanction, if they are caught. They will not be caught because they have failed a test of “fairness,” but because the strained auditing corps of the IRS somehow found deliberate errors (fraud) in their tax returns. Taxpayers are not “forced” to do what is “fair” but what is legal.
Progressives recognize that what is legal is not necessarily in the best interest of the country’s finances and that what is legal does not distribute the burden of supporting the public good on the people and corporations who are most capable of bearing that burden. These arguments, however, are far from the Mr. Schneider’s claims.