Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Change We Could Believe in

When people don't pay income taxes they have little stake in the economic health of the nation and a lot of incentive to vote for whatever politicians will keep their tax at zero. In the U.S. approximately half of wage-earners pay no income tax at all, while ten percent of wage-earners account for 70% of tax revenue.

Students of government going all the way back to Plato have pointed out that no polity can sustain itself when people who don't pay taxes are able to vote to tax the wealthier citizens in order to provide them with the amenities of life. When the less wealthy have access to the public purse it won't be long until they clean it out, which is what we've done in this country.

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer compares the tax burden in the U.S. to an inverted pyramid with the narrow top 10% supporting the rest of the structure. Such a pyramid poised on the point is inherently unstable and so is our tax structure.

Fleischer argues that everyone who earns anything should be required to pay something and he's right. I have not yet come across a cogent objection to the Flat Tax plan that would assess everyone who has an income a particular percentage (say, 20%) with no deductions and few exceptions.

Another intriguing proposal is the Fair Tax.

Whatever plan is adopted it's clear that the current system is unworkable. If a sizable portion of the president's cabinet selections, including the secretary of the Treasury (Timothy Geithner), plus much of Congress, including the chairman of the committee that writes the tax code (Charley Rangel), can't figure out what they owe then the code needs to be overhauled.

That would be the sort of meaningful change that we could actually believe in.


Salient Details

Every report I've seen or heard about the horrible abduction and murder of 8 year-old Sandra Cantu has mentioned that her killer, Melissa Huckaby, was a Sunday School teacher and pastor's daughter. I'm not sure why the media feels this is a salient detail that the public should be aware of unless they just can't resist an opportunity to stick a thumb in the eye of Christians. After all, how many times are the religious associations, or lack thereof, of any of the mass murderers who've befouled our society from the Columbine killers to the most recent shooting in the immigration office at Binghamton, NY featured on the evening news? Are we ever told how many of these killers are, say, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or atheists?

Let a putative Christian do something horrific, however, and the person's faith is almost certain to be made an explicit part of the story, as if to impress upon us that Christians are just as bad as everyone else and that Christianity makes no difference in one's moral life.

Perhaps I'm misjudging the media's motives. Perhaps they reported Ms Huckaby's religious background because they thought it an anomaly that someone of her persuasion would do something so terrible. It's possible. It's possible that the media don't report the religious stance of those who commit similar horrors because, well, because most of them have no religious stance and their crimes are really not so surprising given that fact.

Even so, I propose that from now forward every murderer's religious beliefs be made an integral part of the news accounts of his or her atrocities. It'll be interesting to see the results in print, although anyone who thinks about it can predict what they'll be.