Fair share. Mr. Obama’s mantra. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Why shouldn’t everyone be responsible for his fair share of taking care of what needs to be taken care of?
So what is anyone’s fair share? Lots of politicians talk about how citizens should be paying their fair share of taxes, but no one has articulated exactly how much money that translates into. Instead, all the argument is centered on paying a proper percentage, a statistic that seems to be transparent, but actually hides reality.
We have all heard that Warren Buffett’s secretary pays a higher percentage of her salary than he does. What no one wants to discuss is how much he pays in taxes, and why that is the fair amount to pay. According to CNN Money, Mr. Buffett’s taxable income for 2010 was just slightly less than $40 million, and he paid 17.4 percent of that in taxes. That comes to not quite $7 million in real money, or just about 140 times the median annual income in this country. Mitt Romney just paid $1.9 million in taxes for 2011. That’s more than most Americans will make in their entire lives.
Shipping 17.4 percent of his income off to Washington leaves Mr. Buffett with just about $33 million to play with. But a taxpayer sending in 15 percent of his $50,000 has only $42,500 left over. Why is it not fair for Mr. Buffett to send in all but $42,500 of the money that he earned? It certainly seems fair that everyone ends up with the same amount, and that extra $33 million sure could be put to good use making some of the interest payment on the national debt.
Mr. Buffett himself says that he is not paying enough in taxes, but his accountant seems to be unable to put a firm figure on what he ought to be paying. So there Mr. Buffett sits, extra money in his lap, stymied about how many zeroes to add to that check to the IRS.
On the other hand, why is it fair that Mr. Buffett has to send in $7 million, just because he is more successful than your average Joe? Does Mr. Buffett get an extra $6,992,500 more benefit out of the government?
Mr. Obama has stated that he believes in redistribution, but limited. Why limit it? And by how much? We never seem to get a straight answer on how much is the right amount. You’ll never hear this from the politicians, but I think that it’s because the line keeps shifting. Every time we think we’ve gotten a handle on solving the country’s problems, unemployment and poverty and gay marriage and the like, another survey comes out that says that things are worse than ever. And the only solution ever seems to be to throw more money at the problem. I haven’t yet heard a politician say, for example,
“We federalized education to make it better for all students, we’ve been pouring more money into our school systems for years, the results are getting worse and worse, but I’ve got an idea that actually costs less than we’ve been spending, so we’ll solve the problem and you’ll get a refund!”
No, somehow it seems that all problems can only be fixed by papering over them with more dollar bills.
Mitt Romney has been castigated for being mean to the 47 percent, but what if he truly believes that the solutions to a lot of our problems lie in the private sector? What if his experience in business and as the chief executive of a not-small state economy have taught him that people do better when they are responsible for themselves? That part of the problem in scaling down government is that people do become dependent on handouts, and fear that they will fail if they must make their own decisions?
It’s hard to believe that people are offended at being called victims, but embrace the narrative that says they’re too stupid to figure out vouchers for themselves, whether the choice is in medical care or schools. But it’s also hard to believe that people think that anything about paying taxes or receiving government services is fair.
How can one thing possibly be fair for 320 million people, of both sexes and all genders, newborn to one foot in the grave, poorly or well-educated, poor or well-off, with ten kids or two, basking by the sea or crammed into the inner city? I understand if Mr. Obama believes that the safety net should encompass every situation that may arise in every American’s (and non-documented worker’s) life. Just don’t try to sell any of it as fair. Life is not fair; government benefits are not fair; being the baby instead of the first-born isn’t fair. And no amount of money will ever make it so.
And who gets to decide what is fair? It certainly isn’t those who are sending in the money: they can be outvoted by the masses at every turn. Despite every tax break that they are accused of manipulating, the truth is that the people with the money are still the people who are paying the taxes, no matter what their fair share is or ought to be.
At least be honest on this: you want to raise taxes because you want more money. And the only people with money are the rich people. They do not receive any more benefit from sending in more money; in some cases, they receive less. And taking money from those who have it to give to those who don’t does make those on the receiving end victims, whether they think of themselves as such or not. And those who end up having to pay more money simply because they have more money can tend to feel resentful, can tend to feel taken advantage of, especially when what they are being coerced to pay for is something that they don’t believe in. And that really isn’t fair. No matter what you call it.