Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Punitive" taxation

An e-mail I sent to Andrew Sullivan, as a response to this blog post.

Andrew, I can understand your desire to put the word "progressive" in scare quotes when speaking of our system of scaled income tax brackets. The word "progressive" can be read to imply movement toward the "better" as opposed to a simple quantitative increase. However, it seems to me that there is something fundamentally dishonest in putting the word "progressive" in scare quotes while at the same time using the unquoted word "punitive" approvingly, as you do. I know of no one who favors taxation as a form of punishment, and those who oppose it for that reason seem to me as the child who views being forced to clean his room as a form of punishment. A more honest, neutral description of the "progressive" tax schedule (if you dislike the term "progressive") would be something along the lines of "graduated taxation" or perhaps "accelerated taxation." You may well think the system unfair, which is a value judgment that one could easily set out to defend (though I personally disagree with that assessment). You may well think the system unwise, which again, is a claim that could easily be defended without imputing sinister motives to your opponents. But when you claim that the progressive tax system is a structure that was implemented for the purpose of punishing the wealthy, then you are imputing motives to your opponents that are simply not borne out by any facts of which I am aware. If you know of a current legislator who describes taxation approvingly as punishment I'd surely like to know who he is (and I'm speaking of current legislators, not long dead Bolsheviks or obscure parliamentarians from the pre-history of the UK Labor Party who no one on this side of the pond has ever head of). Or alternatively, if you have reason to believe that there are legislators who approve of taxation precisely because they view is as a fitting punishment for the monied classes, then I'd like to know what evidence led you to you arrive at that conclusion.
One of the things that puzzles me about people like Andrew Sullivan is how muddled their thinking can be when they approach certain topics. It's one thing to disagree with your opponent's. It's quite another to impute bizarre motives to his belief system.

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