Why our tax system makes little sense
A recent letter to the editor complained repealing the estate tax made no sense (i.e., to the writer), but our disagreements on taxes are because we hold two fundamentally and irreconcilably differing views of the objectives of taxes, government and the Constitution. Does the government and Constitution exist to protect our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, or is it to equalize our wealth? Are taxes to pay the cost of protection of rights and property (benefits received) or for some to receive unearned, but coveted, portions of other’s rights and earned property?
Should taxes be fair, equitable or just (which are not the same)? Fairness relates to everyone adhering to the rules of the game. Since there is no agreement as to what the rules should be, or even the objective, we will never mutually see ourselves or others as paying a fair share (e.g., of income or wealth taxes). To be equitable [equal], should we not all pay an equal amount of taxes, because we all have equal value of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness [rights] and equal protection of these under the law (e.g., poll tax)? Paying an equal percentage of our assets or income for the value received for protection of our property (property tax) or income (income or general sales/transaction tax) is most just. Or, does politics suspend moral laws opposing force against other’s person and property for personal gain?
Who wins or loses in tax reform is meaningful for maintaining the status quo, but not when the objective is for a just system. Besides, who actually pays the tax is seldom those intended. Most business-related taxes are a business expense shifted to the consumer (i.e., to remain in business, the business requires a reasonable return on investment, proportionate to the risk)? When considered together, the effect of various taxes and provisions often offset each other and those taxed utilize counter tax avoidance strategies (e.g., trusts, etc.).
Specifically, the estate tax, based on transfer of capital assets, inordinately stretches interpretation of the Constitution because, in no accounting sense of the word, can such transfers be categorized as income. Income used to purchase the assets has previously been taxed; twice in case of corporations (corporate, dividend & capital gain taxes). Even unrealized (untaxed) capital gains obfuscates the true gain (income), because of inflation over the term held. Capital assets are the lifeblood of entrepreneurship, jobs and productivity (wealth) gains; dissipation of which (including taxation) is the primary route to poverty for employer and employed, alike.
When used as an aggression on other’s rights and property, taxes become a nonsensical mix of objectives, arbitrary application and unintended consequences; wasting myriad resources in the political war of aggression and defense.