Cultural Revolutions

Complaint Department

Americans complain endlessly about income taxes. And yet we hardly ever reflect on the heart of the matter: that even if every tax dollar were wisely spent, the very principle of the income tax is unfair.

The purpose of taxes is to pay for government. In exchange for taxes we get highways, soldiers, and diplomats. However, tax payments are unlike any other kind of payment. We can choose whether to buy an apple or an automobile, but as Americans we are forced to buy highways in Hawaii and soldiers in Germany whether we want them or not. Taxes are the obligatory cost of citizenship, and while even at our present high rates most people would consider citizenship cheap at the price, there remains the nagging question that since the government forces us to buy its products, shouldn't it price them fairly?

The very products we have no choice but to buy are the ones that are priced the most unfairly. The problem is this: what the consumer pays has nothing to do with how much he consumes, but with how much money he happens to make. A man with a high salary pays more for the same soldiers and diplomats than a man with a low salary. It's hard to see how people who make a lot of money get more out of the US State Department, for example, than people who make a little, but they pay more for it. And if a man makes more money this year than he did last year, the price of the State Department goes up; graduated taxes make us hand...

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