Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Flat Tax Unfair? This is one of those ideas that has been repeated enough that it has become "true" for most people, but I've never heard a good explanation of why a flat tax is unfair. In fact, the flat tax is arguably the only fair tax, even without resorting to Atlas Shrugged as a sacred text. If everyone pays a flat rate, the tax is automatically progressive, assuming that progressivity in itself is a fair and worthy goal. Perhaps arguing that a flat figure, say $200 a head, is unfair might be more persuasive. But the leap from flat-figure unfairness to flat-rate unfairness sounds more like an article of faith than anything else. Yes, the rich can afford to pay more, and they do so under a flat rate. Again, this is assuming a certain moral force to the argument that they should pay more. Let's grant that they should. Even then, justifying progressive rates (rather than the naturally progressive figures of a flat rate) is still no more than an article of faith. The simple reasoning that gets you over the first hump (the rich just "should" because they "can") might, I suppose, be applied to the second. But why not say the rich "should" pay more in raw figures, based on a progressive-rate system, plus get hit with, say, a flat 10% on top of that? After all, they can afford it. I've never seen any argument against the flat tax that didn't, in the end, rely on this reasoning.

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