Thursday, February 17, 2011

What is a "fair share"?

One of the buzz words on taxes is "fair share", meaning that those who have higher incomes should be paying more taxes than currently.  Those who oppose taxes in general think that "fair share" will stifle business.

What we should really be asking is: are people paying for government services balanced according to what they receive in government services and according to what they can afford to pay.

To take a trite example, many theaters offer student and senior prices.  If there are no seat-related prices, the benefit to all ticket purchasers is the same.  The assumption is that students or seniors will be less able to pay the full price and so are given a discount.  Actually it is to the theaters' benefit to entice a few more buyers to fill the seats.

So it is with government services.  Some people really can't afford to pay the taxes commensurate with the services received.  Firefighters aren't going to determine if the occupants have paid sufficient taxes before they turn on the hoses.

On the other hand, some people with relatively high incomes receive far more benefits than others.  Their businesses would not survive without the services provided by taxes.  For example, without an efficient highway system, they could not have goods brought in and goods moved out, they could not have customers come to their stores, and they could not have employees come to work.

How many big box stores went to the outskirts of cities to get cheap land?  Now few customers and employees can walk to these stores, few if any bus lines are available, and almost all customers and employees have to drive on more miles of roads.  What is the fair share of taxes for the executives of these stores who are getting big salaries?

How many oil executives are getting rich because people are driving more miles for their daily business?  What would the fair share of taxes be for them to cover all the costs of the roads, including repair, widening, traffic management, and crash assistance?

Who benefits from public education?  Of course, each of us benefits personally from our education, whether it is knowing how to be a good citizen or acquiring a marketable skill.  On the other hand, would businesses prosper without a good supply of educated people?  Since a good work force makes possible a successful company, what is a fair share of taxes for the highly-paid executives of a successful company?

"Low taxes" and "fair share" are almost meaningless phrases.  I don't have much hope for any serious thinking among politicians or voters to think past these slogans.