Sunday, April 24, 2011

Are higher taxes on the rich "fair"? There's more to sacrifice than economic calculation

We can recollect the Facebook Live session last week, and the pleasantries between Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg on their both paying more taxes, and then on Easter Sunday morning, look at an article by Arthur C. Brooks in the Washington Post Outlook section. It is titled, “Obama says it’s only ‘fair’ to raise taxes on the rich. He’s wrong,” link here

Brooks usefully discusses the importance of merit and hard work and incentive and admits it can never be perfect in a free society.  Even Donald Trump would say, (besides “Excuse me” and “You’re Fired”) that “Life isn’t fair” but losing, well, s__.  Ask any Washington Senators baseball fan from the 1950s. 

There’s one aspect to the discussion that “everybody” misses. That’s uneven sacrifice. Or, moreover, hidden sacrifice.  I (and probably “you”) depend on a stable infrastructure to keep a meaningful, if individualistic, life going.  And it’s true, that even as “Atlas Shrugged” points out, it takes accepting some risk to keep an infrastructure stable.  But that risk impacts individual people.  And some people experience loss beyond what an economy can compensate. Think of what our electricity depends on. Coal mines.  Go on and on.

I had just a little touch of that the other night. A work client wanted me to call back at a time when I had other plans.  No big deal, and past “bed time” or work time, but she probably didn’t realize I could be put out.  Just a little thing. But this happens all the time.

I was concerned about this sort of thing as I wrote my first “Do Ask Do Tell” in the 90s.  A lot of it had to do with inequality of real sacrifice, as with the Vietnam era draft and deferments in the 60s.  Some of it had to do with more subtle things, like the cultural tension over the hidden sacrifices in parenting and now taking care of the elderly.

During the early part of my adulthood – the late 60s and early 70s, there was a lot more concern with inequality at the individual level. The far Left, particularly the Peoples Party of New Jersey, wanted to limit maximum incomes for all individuals and implement all kinds of other measures to bring “fairness” down to the personal level. That’s what Chairman Mao tried to do with the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s, the effects of which remain today.

Maybe pastors like Rick Warren (the “Purpose-Driven Life”) have a point when they say it is not just about “you”.  Belonging to something bigger than self ultimately becomes part of the discussion, even if this brings back well-justified fears about corruption at the top. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Here’s a Reason TV interview with Arhtur C. Brooks.

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