Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

News Tax on Income/Wealth and Fairness

  1. Jun 26, 2008 #1
    Have you been hitting the glass ****?! I live in the state with one of the highest minimum wages, highest state revenues, and the biggest economy in the union but I would be more than welcome to make half of what you consider 'middle class'. Even a quarter of it. I could live quite comfortably on it I assure you.

    However I do agree on your assessment that making the 'rich', who already pay the most, pay more isn't exactly fair or productive.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 26, 2008 #2
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    With the median price of a house being about $600,000 or more around here, I would think that, at least for this geographical area, the line between upper middle class and upper class is drawn at about $200,000-$250,000 a year for an individual and maybe $250,000-$350,000 for a family, depending on their assets.
  4. Jun 27, 2008 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    You need to quantify exactly what you mean by this. Does "more" refer to the actual tax owed ($) or the tax rate(%)?
  5. Jun 27, 2008 #4

    D H

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    I'm going to forget the productivity issue here and only talk about fairness. Fairness is not a good tax metric. It begs the question of what does fair mean? It means everything from taxing every single person the exact same dollar amount to taxing the rich and the rich only depending on one's political leanings.

    To me an even bigger problem with fairness is: How can something inherently unfair ever be made fair? Taking my money isn't fair, period. The government legally steals money from those who make the money. I am not advocating getting rid of taxes. Modern society needs a fairly extensive government, and that means taxes. Taxes are a necessary evil of modern life.

    An unfairness metric is much more measurable and quantifiable than is a fairness metric. It hurts when the government takes money from people. The pain of taxes should be spread around evenly, and (almost) everyone should participate. Taking $500 per year from someone who makes $10,000 per year hurts that person a lot even though the tax rate is a paltry 5%. Someone making that little money has no money to spare. That 5% comes from the basics of life.

    Taking 5% from a millionaire doesn't hurt the millionaire much at all. The government needs to dig much, much deeper into the millionaire's bank account to make the millionaire feel the same pain as the poor person taxed at 5%. A sharply graduated tax makes a whole lot of sense when you look at taxes from the perspective of taxes being inherently unfair.
  6. Jun 27, 2008 #5
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    Well, if I may, "more" will be possible to define unambiguously for sure, and we can even guess what is meant. However, "fair and productive" is at the heart of the argument, and would admit only political model definitions.

    As far as I can naively tell, the trivial tax definition would be in absolute value, everybody pays the same. A first "fairness" adjustement is to define taxes in % of the income. A second adjustement would be to consider a "threshold for living", say of $1000 per month (then location dependent), so that richer people actually pay more than the previous naive linear (%) definition. Well, as in tax = slope*(income-threshold), if you set threshold=0 you actually increase the tax for anybody... Finally, re-adjustements can be considered, on the basis of what every individual contribute to society. Here it becomes pretty complicated. One could also insist that the tax tends to a finite value as the income goes to infinity I guess. But that would probably be more unfair than re-adjustement.

    At least, this is schematically how it works in France.
  7. Jun 27, 2008 #6
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    So you are calling tax a form of pain that should be equally felt regardless of income. I don't agree. I believe a flat tax percentage, regardless of income is where we should be. To tax someone more because he/she is more successful than another is punishing accomplishment. That is not and should not be the role of the government. It's counterproductive.
  8. Jun 27, 2008 #7
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    There is no such thing as punishing accomplishment. This is a fake concept, invented to argue against any tax modification. It is clear that 5% of $10,000 versus 5% of $1M cannot compare in terms of life quality. In one case you are taking kid's food out of $10,000, in the other case you might take yet another brand new fancy car. It is beyond my understanding that one can fail to relate to that.
  9. Jun 27, 2008 #8


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    This arguable assertion on accomplishment
    is followed by a non-sequitor statement on your value judgements:
    Given to punish means: "to impose a penalty on ..." then I think it is reasonable to say that, if the act can be articulated, then I posit any imaginable human action can be punished. I certainly see accomplishment punished frequently.
  10. Jun 27, 2008 #9

    D H

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    Fortunately, just as few people agree with you as agree with those on the far left who think Sweden's tax rates for the rich are too low.

    Since you don't buy my pain argument, I'll make a cost/benefits argument for a graduated tax. A good chunk of our government expenditures go to national defense. Who benefits? The poor? How? The benefit is roughly proportional to wealth, and wealth is a very nonlinear function of income. The other big chunk goes to poverty programs. I'll leave that for last.

    Who benefits from roads? I've heard ludicrous arguments that the rich don't drive anymore than anyone else. That argument ignores that the rich benefit from having employees who can drive to work, from having truckers who can ship the goods the empoyees make, and from having customers who are able to drive to the shops where the goods are sold. Corporate ownership is similarly non-linear with respect to income. The same goes for government funded research. The rich benefit disproportionately with respect to income.

    Poverty programs involve the government out-and-out giving our money to others without permission. There are big parts of this I don't agree with, but that is not germaine to this discussion. There is little benefit from these programs to those not on assistance. The only benefit I can see is akin to the friendly mobster who offers the local store owner protection from thugs (his thugs). Without assistance, the poor might well hold an uprising. Poverty programs are a government sponsored protection racket. The rich have disproportionately more to less, and so the shakedown should be greater.

    I have not yet addressed the fact that we all are a very priviledged people in that we live in a society where a poor person can become rich. The rich "owe" society something for their elevated economic status. This extra something is an even stiffer graduation on the tax rate. Anything less would not be fair.

    This fairness approach is admittedly an ugly way to look at things. It exposes quite a few warts. Maybe that's a good thing. There are other ways to expose this ugly side of the government-sponsored shakedown.

    I like my spread-the-pain approach. All but those in the most abject poverty would pay some tax. Even a person currently on welfare who owns television sets and a nice car or two should be contributing to the society. It would have to be a pittance, but they should contribute something. It would make them feel more a part of society and make them appreciate (through some pain and suffering) what society has to offer.
  11. Jun 27, 2008 #10
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    "non-sequitur". "o" and "u" are not even next to each other. Besides, the statement does not follow, those two sentences are independent.

    Honestly, I do not really care in this discussion, because I feel a lack of intellectual honesty. Argument for the sake of argumentation can be fun, but on this topic it does not appeal to me.
  12. Jun 27, 2008 #11


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    Indeed they are, hence the term which in the latin means 'it does not follow'. Following a wild assertion immediately with unrelated material is pretense, or as you say:
    Another drive-by "you people are wrong and insincere, but I'm not interested, bye" post, I can do with out.
  13. Jun 27, 2008 #12
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    Look up the majority of tax laws in civilized countries. There is a threshold below which one does not pay taxes, and the amount of tax you pay is roughly proportional to the amount you make above this threshold. I am not making my point out. My point was as simple as this, and anything on top of this simple rule is an adjustement.

    Whithin this rule, it means that if you make twice money, you will pay more than twice taxes. Period.
  14. Jun 27, 2008 #13
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    The rhetoric about "punishing accomplishment" is kind of ridiculous. It presupposes that people who are wealthy must have worked harder than others and, as a corollary, that the poor are lazy and deserve to suffer. It presents society as an idealized meritocracy, ignoring all of the familial, social and cultural aspects of wealth accumulation, in a contemptable attempt to paper over the fact that what's being called for is an elitist system that ruthlessly exploits the weak and marginalized. It's all straight out of Atlas Shrugged, which some people are so myopic as to actually consider a good book with worthwhile ideas, rather than the bloated, clumsy inverted-Marxist soap opera that it is.
  15. Jun 27, 2008 #14
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    Since I've been pushed, I'll quote wikipedia
  16. Jun 27, 2008 #15
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    I disagree completely.

    Yes, most people who have a net worth of $1 million or more, did in fact work for it. Inherited wealth makes up a small portion of the wealth in this country.

    And no, it does not presuppose that the wealthy people worked any harder. It presupposes that they worked more productively.

    No one cares how "hard" one works. There are plenty of poor people who work very hard each day. What matters is what you PRODUCE. S/he who produces the most gets paid the most.

    You have to work hard AND productively. Taking wealth by force from those who work both hard and productively, just to keep things "fair," is inherently very unfair. Someone who is wealthy will always be hurt less by taxes than someone who is poor. That is what provides the incentive for people to work more productively. A janitor can work hard, but that's an easily replaceable job. A computer engineer isn't, and thus will get paid more.

    And yes, America is a great deal meritocracy. No, it does not "exploit" the "weak and marginalized." Those who truly cannot take care of themselves can be aided by the State and/or charities, and for others who just truly get knocked on their butts, that's what charities and churches and so forth are supposed to be for. This isn't quite true nowadays with all the government social programs out there though.

    It is the high-taxation policies that punish accomplishment and wealth creation that create a truly elitist system, because those who already have made it, who already own big businesses, see their wealth become better protected, because fewer competitors in business will come about. People won't become entrepreneurs as much when such a profession is punished heavily. This thus makes those already wealthy a very secure and priviledged elite, whose wealth is protected from taxes in secure trusts and so forth.

    This is how things were at the end of the 1970s. There was no capital to start businesses, and the stock and bond markets were practically destroyed. The highest tax rate was 70% and capital gains were at 50%. Most wealthy thus kept their wealth in safe trusts and avoided the stock and bond market (s) completely.

    Remember, the average American is very, very wealthy, on a global scale. Americans are only like 5% of the population, yet even the poorest Americans live a standard of living that is considered fabulous by most world standards, because they are so poor.

    I am sure the guy who wakes up in a poverty-stricken village and goes out and collects firewood for hours, just to provide some heat for his family, works as hard as the average middle-class guy who gets up and goes to work. The difference is that the American worker PRODUCES a lot more, and thus is ultimately paid far more.

    Americans are the most productive workers in the world. We produce more wealth than anyone. So we have among the highest standard of living when measured by GDP per capita (I think Switzerland's is higher; Norway's is 10% higher, but stuff there costs about twice as much as it does here, and also about 25% of Norway's GDP is from oil I believe).
  17. Jun 27, 2008 #16
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    Inherited wealth, as in actual inherited estates, is not the point. Having parents who can afford to raise you in a stable environment with good schools, proper nutrition and medical care, and then send you to a good college (and probably hook you up with some job contacts when you finish) is. These factors have much more determinative power on a person's income than their relative work ethic, and they are completely outside of individual control. Nobody chooses to be born into a family of lesser means.

    Incidentally, I find it's almost always people who are from advantaged backgrounds that go in for this "society's a meritocracy and I don't owe anyone anything" line of thinking. Clearly, they're insecure about the numerous unearned advantages that underpin their lives, and desperately want to believe that they really do deserve the easier life that they were given.

    Same difference. You're still attributing wealth exclusively to individual merit. But that is only one factor in the real world; we do not live in an anarchic utopia where each individual is master of their destiny. Various mechanisms for large-scale control exist in all modern societies, and to ignore this is facile (although it is likewise facile to overemphasize them; a Communist I'm not).

    So it's fair to take wealth from people who work hard and were deprived of the opportunity to be more productive? Do you really think that everyone has an equal opportunity to attain a high level of productivity? And, if not, doesn't that imply that those who did have such opportunities have a responsibility to help improve the lots of the less fortunate?

    Who said anything about America? Not me. In particular, the comments about exploitation applied to the hypothetical system that wild-eyed libertarians tend to promote. Thankfully, America has been wise and mature enough not to go in for their hare-brained plans, and instead constructed a society with a responsible combination of market incentives, social welfare and progressive policy.

    I'm not going to address this fantasy, other than to point out that the subject is progressive taxation, which is a different issue from whether taxes are high or low as such. Although, as far as that goes, corporate taxes have long been fairly high in the United States (they're much lower in Europe, for example).

    You forgot Qatar, Luxembourg, Malta, Brunei and Cyprus. And the GDP figures are measured in PPP terms, which means that the differing costs of living have already been factored in.
  18. Jun 27, 2008 #17
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    These things do have some effect, but this excuse is over-used. Whether people come from good backgrounds or bad, both can go to good colleges and get a decent education ultimately.

    You cannot enforce equality with something like this. If you decide to give specific benefits to the "under-priviledged" people, you are discriminating against those who come from good middle-class families and may have worked just as hard to go to school.

    I disagree there completely. The people who seem to most want to undermine capitalism usually are the ones who come from priviledged backgrounds. People who come from poor backgrounds who work hard do not have an entitlement mindset.

    Many of these "poor" you talk of are the recipients of numerous truly unearned privildges. For example, a good chunk of the hardworking middle-class doesn't have healthcare. Yet if you are like my cousins, who both drop out of high school and have a child, you get a "free" apartment and "free" healthcare (and it's good healthcare!). If you work hard as my sister does, and poke your eye (as she did) and have trouble affording the prescriptions, tough. If you work hard and aren't "poor" enough to have welfare but can't afford fuel for heat, tough. Yet if you sit on your butt like my aunt and are supported by the state, they will give you fuel for "free."

    To me, it is much of the so-called "under-priviledged underclass" who are entitlement-minded. As for those who come from lower middle-class families, you are being entitlement-minded if you expect that you should be given all the priviledges that the upper middle-class person has from their family. Doing such a thing would be a form of discrimination. We do not have a society based on equal outcome. It's equal opportunity.

    You could argue that the poorer person can't have the same "opportunity" as the wealthier person when they graduate high school, regarding colleges, but college from high school is still a form of outcome. If you try to "enforce equality," you end up making things more un-equal.

    The idea is you go out and make yourself as wealthy as you can, which is based on choices and work ethic. If you decide to take a lower-paying job and then have children, you have no right to complain that those children do not have the same priviledges as the children of the guy who became a high-paid lawyer.

    It's mostly individual merit. I am not any believer in anarchy. Anarchy wouldn't work. How would you protect your intellectual property for businesses and inventions and so forth? How would you solve disputes without a legal/court system? Capitalism can only function under the rule of law. Ayn Rand I believe argued for no government; she was a believer in capitalism, but I think she did not understand enough about capitalism to know that government is a necessary evil.

    Most people who don't work productively, that's they're fault. Not the government's, not society's, not the neighbor's, yada yada it's on you. And yes, most all people have an equal opportunity to attain a higher-level of wealth, especially these days with the invention of the Internet. These aren't the old days where you had to be born into the elite circles to make it big on Wall Street or become a corporate CEO. It also doesn't take years to build a big company like it used to. That's why the number of wealthy people has skyrocketed in recent years.

    And yes, I think wealthy people have a responsibility to help improve the lot of those less fortunate. That is one of the primary arguments for few government programs; because private charity takes over. One of the reasons American universities are the besti s because of private charitable giving. The 19th century saw the largest outpouring of private charity in history.

    For example, Andrew Carnegie was worth about the modern equivalent of $300+ billion. He funded the construction of over one THOUSAND public libraries. Rockefeller as well gave massive amounts to charity. Welathy from both sides of the political isle contribute lots to charity. Hip-Hop stars, George Soros, Bill Gates, now Warren Buffett, Steve Schwarzman, etc...and many others. Charity is a very important component of a free society, because it is another excuse to keep the government at bay.

    Wealthy people should not have their wealth confiscated by force for big government programs, but such people at the same time should share their wealth through charities and churches and so forth.

    IMO, most of the "social welfare" programs of America are what have caused so much of the poverty that currently exists in this country. Poverty skyrocketed with the Great Society programs of the 1960s.

    Having said that, these Libertarians who want no government and expect us all to live in our homes and grow our own food and all that, IMO, are living in a fantasyland.

    As I said above, you MUST have government. One of the reasons capitalism struggles to get started in nations that convert from socialism to capitalism is because capitalism requires a proper legal system, financial system, political system, and constitution. As of now, America has all these, but it was a bumpy road the first few centuries occasionally!

    It is far from any fantasy. This can be shown by the performance of the European economies and the american economy when applying such policies. You want to create a true priviledged elite, then create taxation and regulation policies that stifle entrepreneurship and punish wealth creation.

  19. Jun 27, 2008 #18
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    I am not sure that I agree completely with this statement. In fact, I do not agree with it at all. I was born in a third world country and came here as a young teenager with little more than the shirt on my back. To say that our family was low income was an understatement. The main reason why I am now an airline pilot is because I worked my a$$ off for it. Also, when my parents found out that I wanted to fly airplanes, they were livid. They made it abundantly clear in their words and actions that they hope that I never make it.

    In addition, my brother who is now a millionaire had to work extremely hard for that too. In fact, all of the rich people that I personally know had to work extremely hard to get there. This reinforces the saying that you have to do work that others will never do if you want to have privileges that others will never have. I am sure that there are exceptions to this rule but I do not personally know of any.

    On another note, I believe that the person who is most likely to be hurt by the progressive income tax is the average man/woman who has to work a second job in order to deal with a financial hardship. The primary reason for working a second job is to have a higher income, and the progressive income tax system will penalize the person for working harder. I personally believe that it is terribly unfair to that person. Frankly, it is similar to penalizing a student who works harder to get a better grade.
  20. Jun 27, 2008 #19
    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    I look at it this way. Have a flat tax rate across the board and quit squabling about who should be taxed more or less. It's a completely rediculous wast of time! That time should be spent on how to efficiently SPEND THE TAX MONEY. The US Govt gets PLENTY of money through taxes. PLENTY! We should be more concerned on HOW it is spent than WHO pays what! As it is now, there are plenty of tax breaks for us regular middle class and lower class people. Those with large salaries pay larger taxes. Redistributing wealth is not the job of the government, it's the job of capitalism with a free society! Let it work as it has and regulate where needed to prevent fraud and corruption. That's it!
  21. Jun 27, 2008 #20

    D H

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Re: Hate Obama? Why?

    Assuming that whatever changes made to the tax system are revenue-neutral, a flat tax will hurt that average person even more. The wealthy currently pay a disproportionate share of their income because we do have a mildly progressive income tax. The wealthy will benefit immensely from a flat tax. A flat tax is an immense transfer of the tax burden from the wealthy to the upper middle and middle classes disguised under the guise of fairness. The marginal tax rate for a middle class person working two jobs will be much larger under a flat tax than under a progressive tax.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook