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Brian Jones: Fair taxes and straw men


It has been so long since I was accused of being a communist that I’ve forgotten how to say, “Thank you, comrade” in Russian.

On Wednesday, letter writer Derek Butler stated the ideas expressed in my Aug. 25 column (“Tax the people who have the money”) amount to “communism pure and simple.”

Butler apparently forgot the Cold War is over, and the good guys won.

His accusation reminded me of 1981 at the University of Calgary, when a few friends and I set up tables to distribute anti-nuke leaflets, and some of our fellow students walked past and hissed, “Communists!”

Opposing nuclear annihilation meant you must be a communist. It was a strange world then, and it still is.

The gist of my Aug. 25 column was that the government should implement higher taxes on people who are at the high end of the income scale, for the practical reason that they are the ones who have the most money.

As is often pointed out, high-income earners already pay the vast majority of taxes collected by various levels of government. There is a reason for this: they own the vast majority of wealth in the economy. An oft-cited statistic is that in developed countries, the top 20 per cent of income earners own approximately 80 per cent of the economy’s wealth.

If governments are billions in deficit and tens of billions in debt, but still need billions to build schools and hospitals, and repair crumbling roads, bridges and water lines, should they seek the funds from people who have the money (the “communist” approach) or from people who don’t have the money (the Chamber of Commerce approach)?

Sophie must have read The Telegram online and murmured, “Justin, dear, this columnist down in Newfoundland has a brilliant idea,” and hence we see the all recent headlines about tax fairness.

But I digress. In his letter (“Tax column boggled the mind”), Butler employs the classic “straw man” tactic of misrepresenting someone’s argument so he can easily smash it to bits.

To whit: “The undercurrent of the column was that people should only be allowed to keep enough of their money to maintain the same standard of living as people who make less money.”

I said no such thing. I implied no such thing. I believe no such thing. (That would be communism.)

Again: “So a fair system, to Mr. Jones, is one which leaves both citizens with the same after-tax income.”

Show me where I said that, and I’ll show you the scythe I used on the collective farm.

It’s easy to defeat someone’s argument if you misrepresent what they said. To be clear, I repeat: a government that has deficits, debt and big bills for societal needs such as schools, roads, doctors’ salaries, etc. should collect more taxes from the wealthy, because they can afford to pay more taxes and — what luck! — remain wealthy.

This may be, as Butler declares, “perhaps the stupidest thing I have read in a long time.”

But surely it is more stupid to continue with the current tax system, which doesn’t enable governments to pay for all the things the public needs and demands.

Unlike the wealthy, the 80 per cent of people who collectively own a mere 20 per cent of the economy’s wealth can’t pay more without incurring dramatic changes in their economic standing.

Butler writes: “And if you disagree, he suggests, you’re not entitled to your own views about deficits.”

Another straw man. What I actually said was that people who oppose a fairer tax system, i.e., one in which the wealthy contribute more, are being logically inconsistent when, at the same time, they moan about government deficits and debt.

I eagerly anticipate your next rebuttal, comrade.

 

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com.

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