Over at Outside The Beltway, I got into another scrum with the commenters on a Doug Mataconis posting. (It’s a bad habit of mine.) The topic was the tax burden on Americans, and how it’s distributed. I brought up what I thought should have been a fundamental question on the matter:
Is anyone prepared to argue that the government doesn’t take in enough money in taxes?
The question remained, unsurprisingly, unasked.
The best estimate I’ve found for government revenue for 2011 puts it at about 2.174 trillion dollars. Or, (putting on my “Jay Tea the math geek” hat), put out in the long form, $2,174,000,000,000. And in another way, an average of just over $7,000 for every single man, woman, and child in the United States.
Now, that’s all revenue sources, not just income taxes (which make up over half the total), but it’s still a hell of a lot. And it seems to me that, without getting into the minutiae, that ought to be enough money for a federal government to run itself.
But that wasn’t the topic of the argument over there. It was “are certain people paying enough?” More specifically, the rich.
Ask any leftist, and you know the answer — “no.”
Don’t bother asking them “how much would be enough,” though — the only answer will be “more.” They won’t let themselves be nailed down to a number, but they start getting squirrelly around 70% as the top marginal rate — the rate President Kennedy signed off on when he took it down from 90%. But they don’t really say “no” when you talk about 100%, especially when pointing out how if you confiscated all the wealth of the wealthiest, it still wouldn’t help matters.
Underlying this whole argument, however, is a truly insidious notion that needs to be dragged out in the open and beaten to death with sticks — the presumption that taxes are a form of social engineering, and used to “punish” those who are judged to have acquired “too much” in “improper” means.
Especially to the point it’s being used now — the “fair share” arguers aren’t talking about simply redistributing the existing tax burden, but taking more and more away from “the wealthy.”
And just giving it to the government.
They don’t make the argument that the government needs the money. They don’t make the argument that the government is entitled to the money. They don’t make the argument that the government will use the money more wisely. To them, those are all givens.
I don’t buy those precepts.
And I won’t ever buy them.
Because, even below those assumptions, is an even more profound assumption that can not be left unchallenged:
The idea that the money in question is rightfully the government’s, and whatever the government deigns to allow people to keep is a gift.
That’s how you come up with saying that “we can’t afford tax cuts” — because it assumes that the government has first dibs on the money in question, and when it takes less, it’s an actual expenditure. It’s as if the government actually writes a check to the individual, instead of reducing the size of the check the individual has to write.
They also like it when wealthy people like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett say that they ought to be taxed more, but don’t like it when you bring up that those worthies — or anyone else — can volunteer to pay more to the government to assuage their conscience already. And they get seriously out of joint when you bring up the Massachusetts income tax, where taxpayers can choose to pay at a higher rate — and the percentage of those fine, outstanding liberals who have chosen to do so has never exceeded the tiniest fraction of 1% — and those who have chosen to do so have not had the names Kerry, Kennedy, or Frank, just to name a few.
I’m still waiting for someone to answer me: can anyone put forward an argument that the government currently takes in too little money? And are they willing to go further, and say just how much would be enough?
I ain’t holding my breath.
Update: I think I FINALLY got the right number of zeroes…