Thursday, October 16, 2008

You're wrong, Joe

In an interesting follow-up interview today, ABC's Diane Sawyer asks Joe Wurzelbacher -- a.k.a., "Joe the Plumber" -- about his response to last night's debate and his thoughts on the tax issue he raised with Obama. In his remarks, Wurzelbacher repeated a common conservative trope, that it's "wrong" to tax higher-earners at higher rates "for being more successful."

Well, Joe, you're wrong on both counts. High earners aren't being taxed more "for being successful;" nor, more generally, it is wrong to charge a higher rate. Indeed, this kind of progressive taxation is eminently just, for two reasons. First is that these folks have benefited more from the American system. You can't on the one hand praise America as the "land of opportunity" and on the other hand say -- however hard you may have worked for your success -- that you did it all yourself. The system obviously contributed. Otherwise why single out America? (Incidentally, people have been achieving great wealth here at tax rates far higher than exist today, or at the fractionally higher rates for a few that Obama proposes.)

The second reason it's just is that the wealthy use more of the system's "goods" that the rest of us: the businesses that generate the money make more use of the public infrastructure (roads, sewer, water), police and fire protection, the public schools to train workers, and the court system to enforce contracts (the vast majority of civil court activity is business to business), among other public resources. I don't think Joe and those who agree with him necessarily want a free (or reduced-rate) ride -- but that's what they'd be getting if they didn't pay their fair share in full.

A side note: if you include local taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, etc., the overall tax system is actually quite flat -- perhaps unfairly so.

Is Joe the Plumber the Same as Joe Six-pack? - The New Republic

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