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Letter: Me and Mr. Jones

In late August, Telegram writer Brian Jones wrote a column titled “Tax the people who have the money” which appeared (hold that thought) to present the argument that government should tax rich people more because they have more money, based on after-tax income.

The example he provided illustrated two individuals, and he showed that taxing the higher-income earner at a higher rate was fair because s/he would still have way more money left over than a person with lower income, taxed at a lower rate.

I wrote a reply to Jones, published by The Telegram on Sept. 19, saying his thoughts and arguments boggled the mind and represented communism (not the theory, but the sad practice, long disproven).

Mr. Jones replied a few days later, in a piece called “Fair taxes and straw men.” I wrote him a note to say “touché,” and in response to his invitation to a rebuttal, with you and your readers’ indulgence, here goes.

First, Mr. Jones and I are in agreement in that we support tax fairness, and by all appearances we concur in part by defining that as a progressive tax system where those with more money pay higher taxes. He says ours has only the charade of fairness, but park that for the moment. We both want a progressive system.

Second, Mr. Jones and I are also in agreement that people should not be taxed to ensure they have the same level of after-tax income. I said that would be crazy, and he agrees. He wrote, “I said no such thing. I implied no such thing. I believe no such thing.” I thought that was what he was saying, but he says no. Fair enough. He supplied the extreme example to make the point, but he is not in favour of it. Me neither.

Third, Mr. Jones and I also agree that if I thought what he said was true, then, as he put it, “that would be communism. … I’ll show the scythe I use on the collective farm.” Yet he says I forgot the Cold War is over and all that foolishness. Witty, I guess.

So do we disagree on anything? A few things, to be sure.

First, the definition of a straw man is the intentional misrepresentation of someone’s argument, to create an easier one to destroy. It is indeed a logical fallacy, but unless Mr. Jones is all-knowing, he should stand down. I did not mean to or intentionally misrepresent his argument. I may have misunderstood it, or he might not have communicated it as clearly as he could have.

Second, Mr. Jones says our progressive system of taxation only has the appearance of fairness, and to illustrate, he cites two individuals who, despite different levels of taxation, have widely different after-tax income. I did not provide that example, but the suggestion by choice of illustration that the measure of fairness is the money you are left with is the very thing that I was saying no to. Carried to the extreme, it would be the point I countered with in my previous letter: government should not measure or judge people on the money they have left over.

I did not choose Mr. Jones’ example, he did. To illustrate the lack of appearance of fairness in our current progressive tax system with two individuals with differing after-tax income is a slippery slope. That was the gist of my reply, and we agree it would be communism to do so. See above.

Third, and finally, we disagree on his response where said he did not suggest those who oppose his approach (not his per se, but these views)  are not entitled to their views. Well, he wrote that they should not whine, and they should shut up. I am not sure what the use of a view is if you can’t articulate it, but that is what he wrote: shut up. In his second column, he says he did not say critics are not entitled to their own views, he says he said they are being “logically inconsistent.”

“Shut up” vs. “logically inconsistent.” I’ll let your readers judge.

It almost makes you long for the writing of Marx.    


Derek Butler

St. John’s

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