The Most Just Distribution of the Tax Burden in our Society
An ancient saying tells that money is the root of all evil, but for all of the trouble that it causes, people have always fought for it and been involved in a struggle to avoid giving up any of it. One way that people have been especially hesitant to give up money is through the process of paying taxes-this has not changed from the days of the greatest ancient civilizations to the fast-paced, technology driven world of today. All of this leads to the question of what is the most just way to spread the tax burden among the members of modern society? To answer this question, this research will use a philosophical and moral standpoint to attempt to resolve this controversial issue.
Classic Economic Philosophy and Fair Tax Distribution
One area where the answer to fair tax distribution may lie is within the ideas of the most well known philosophers/economists of modern time. With this in mind, a look at these ideas will now be presented.
Adam Smith is one of the most widely studied, and quoted economic philosophers who ever lived; over a century after his death, he is still widely recognized as the father of modern economic theory, and as such, is someone whose ideas are important to discuss and understand in this research as well. At the heart of Smith’s theories is the idea that while it may be possible for people to be able to work and produce the things that they need for everyday life, there are some things which the individual is not able to totally have from their own hand, such as products that must be made by skilled craftsmen, as well as those things for which there is just not enough time in the day to create. Therefore, Smith says, the individual needs to use his labor to contribute to society; for example, the offering of products for sale, services, and of course, most important to this paper, the contribution of money to the tax system to provide for the wellbeing of the public good; holding to Smith’s ideas, individuals need to pay taxes so that defense can be provided, roads paved, and the other public services that people cannot provide for themselves, but can pay money to have done by someone else (Abel, 2004). Of course, under this scenario, it would seem that Smith would expect each person to pay according to what they could afford to pay-similar to the modern system of taxing earnings, but not quite.
Directly opposite to Smith are the philosophies of Karl Marx, the father of modern Communism, who firmly believed that items such as taxes should be a burden not as a part of a fair, measured system, but rather by everyone being forced to give everything for the benefit of the state, and the state would in turn take care of their needs, not as much a tax as a form of service, similar to the serf system of the Middle Ages, where no one is free to pursue their goals, but everyone must pay everything to the government (Abel, 2004).
For John Rawls, one of the 20th century’s most influential economic philosophers, there is a central idea of fairness; in other words, Rawls felt that in regard to fair distribution of tax liability in society, those with the highest ability to pay should pay the most so that in some way, the playing field would be leveled in order for the less fortunate to be able to rise to a standard of living that those who are more fortunate in their wealth have as well (Abel, 2004). In this way, at the risk of opening a can of worms so to speak, Rawls sounds very much like Marx in that he wants to have a system that will allow everyone to have an equal piece of the dream of comfortable living and the full benefits of the government without having to pay excessive amounts of taxes to do so.
Thomas Hobbes’ philosophy is also significant in discussing a fair taxation distribution. According to Hobbes, equal justice was the equivalent of equal taxation, whereby everyone pays an equal amount for the maintenance of a strong state, including an adequate defense and other social programs for the good of everyone (Abel, 2004).
Generally speaking, there are also some general cultural standards in regard to the just distribution of taxation. Reflecting back to the books of the New Testament of the Bible, it was Jesus Christ himself who made a statement to the effect that what is God’s should be given to God, but that the taxes due to the government should be fairly paid (Walsh, 2000). This is a sentiment which is the basis of many religious and moral codes-paying one’s fair share of their taxes as well as their other debts; however, this brings us back to the original question of the just distribution of that “fair share”. In looking at the classic philosophers/religious leaders, we see a variety of viewpoints, all of which seem to make sense in some ways, which leads to the ultimate question of whether or not there is an ideal answer to the just distribution of tax burden in society, which will now be discussed.
Is There an Ideal Distribution Method?
All of the research that has been conducted up to this point has shown that there are different ways of distributing tax burdens, but ultimately, the question of what the most just distribution of the tax burden would be is still unanswered. Overall, this research, and the experience of history has shown that no system is 100% fair, but based on economic reality and logical philosophy, a few standards can be recommended.
First, no one should be forced to pay more than they can realistically afford; in the present day, as taxes creep up and up, those with limited financial means are unable to pay their taxes and still afford the food, medicine and other essentials of life. Therefore, an excellent beginning step in just tax distribution is a reduction of tax rates; perhaps, governments should look toward cutting costs and eliminating waste rather than automatically demanding more money from those who cannot afford to pay it. Second, those who have the means to pay excessive taxes should not be pushed to do so, either. Going back to the first point, the key is to reduce spending, not to increase taxes for anyone, regardless of their wealth. Lastly, the government needs to either justify their expenses or cut taxes immediately, for the current system is certainly not fair due to its excessive burdens (Richards, 1998)
In conclusion, while there is not a clear cut answer to the tax distribution question, there are steps that can be taken to try to improve the system. Overall, however, as the introduction to this research stated, the battle over money is eternal throughout history, and perhaps no one will ever be satisfied, no matter what the system might be. Possibly, that is the entire point, which goes back to the philosophical- the human nature is to have unlimited wants and limited means, and no gains may ever be enough to satisfy the human craving.
Abel, D.C. (2004). Fifty Readings Plus: An Introduction to Philosophy. New York: McGraw Hill.
Richards, S. (1998, March 13). The Government Needs to Argue the Case for Fair Taxation and Public Spending; the New Social Democrats Have a Point. New Statesman, 127, 9.
Walsh, A. D. (2000). Religion, Economics, and Public Policy: Ironies, Tragedies, and Absurdities of the Contemporary Culture Wars. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.