The word "fair" can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What’s fair to you might not seem fair to me. Where you stand depends a lot on where you sit, somebody once said. Take the president’s use of the word "fair" to justify his new tax cut.
It’s not fair, says Mr. Bush, for the government to tax corporate profits and then tax the dividends you receive. This is double taxation, according to the president. Last time around, Mr. Bush and the Republicans were upset about the unfairness of the estate tax, or "death tax," as they call it. This started me to thinking.
The IRS taxes my wages and then taxes the interest on my savings account and my certificates of deposit, too. Maybe I missed it, but I never heard the president get upset about that. And it would seem that payroll taxes are so high that maybe they would give the Republicans insomnia, too. So why is double taxation OK in some instances and not in others?
It all gets back to how you define "fair." To get an idea of what Mr. Bush and the Republicans mean by fair, you have to read the editorials in the Wall Street Journal or one of those conservative magazines. You’ll never hear it from the president because, if you did, his approval ratings would sink deeper than a gopher in the Texas sun.
The Journal equates personal worth with, well, personal worth. If you are affluent, you are a better person than your counterpart further down the economic ladder. You are imbued with all the great qualities, risk-taking, innovation and overall smarts that make entrepreneurial capitalism what it is.
Christian leaders like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell even cloak you with a spiritual quality the rest of us lack. You might think the Bible says something about it being more difficult for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle, but Robertson and Falwell have turned it around so that the rich are the chosen people. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that "the rich are different than you and I." They’re not just different in today’s America, Scott, they’re better.
I am not belittling the accomplishments of the great risk-takers. Some, like my cousin, are my personal heroes because without them we’d live in some boring, nanny society without all the comforts I have gotten to love. These people are the ones who built their own businesses by sleeping in airports while the rest of us were content to sleep in our comfortable beds and collect a weekly paycheck.
But just how many of the affluent do you think fall into that category? How many are just the coddled offspring of old wealthy families or overpaid CEOs who lay off workers while granting themselves big bonuses?
See, if you have this idealized vision of the rich, then any tax break you give them is inherently fair. The same Wall Street Journal offered the opinion that the working class is not angry enough about high taxes because they don’t pay a high-enough proportion of them. See, the rest of us just don’t get it.
Remember when Republicans were for simplifying the tax code? That was when they thought they could slip the flat tax by us. But the Bush proposal on tax-free dividends is anything but simple. If you do your own taxes or you get H&R; Block, you’ll never get tax-free dividends. You need a high-priced CPA to figure out whether the corporation from which you got that dividend has paid any taxes or reinvested part of its profit in the past year. Even the Republicans weren’t about to give you a dividend tax-free if the corporation escaped paying taxes (as many of them do, and is that fair?).
Now the Republicans will argue I’m just waging class warfare. I’ve got a feeling they said the same thing when the progressive income tax was enacted. They can’t admit they really believe that it’s the wealthy who make this capitalistic engine hum because they have to depend on working folks to get elected. So instead, the president and the leadership of the party talk about what is fair.
The president once told us that the wealthy could have their tax cuts without drastic cuts in spending, we could still fight a war and still have a balanced budget. Now he is proposing a tax cut that will cost more than $300 billion when we are already in the red.
That’s not fair by anyone’s definition.