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Tax My Time

Some folks argue that “we” are too obsessed with income, and that more income, at some point, does not mean more happiness. Their obvious conclusion is that higher taxes on “the rich” are not only OK, but justifiable on some cosmic level. But others have pointed out, rightly, that there is much more to inequality than disparities in income. These other disparities are no less sources of dissatisfaction for the less fortunate than are limitations on their income, so why are they summarily ignored?

For example, some of us are more athletically inclined than others. Anyone that has tried their hand at golf, and then watches a PGA Tour event will understand how frustrating such differences can be. Better athletes, ceteris paribus, are likely to be better off than me. I happen to enjoy a career that affords me lots of flexibility and much time “off” in the summer. I am monumentally more happy today with this time and a lower income than I was when I was working 100 hours per week for the possibility of earning 10x more. Why, then, are there not aggressive efforts to make us all more equal on these regards? What is so special about income that requires redistribution? The only mildly persuasive case for progressive income taxation is that wide income disparities tear at the social fabric and make democracies unstable (I don’t buy such an argument, by the way) – but then why are all of the other things we are unequally endowed with not important for social cohesion? Actually, they are – and in fact you can argue they are more important.

So. why the focus on income and not other things? Why is my free time not “taxed” so that my “harder” working neighbors are not forced to suffer the horrors of watching me play basketball in my yard with the kids, or clean up my kayaks or pack up the car for a road trip? These are rhetorical, no? One reason clearly must be because when governmental officials confiscate income in the name of social cohesion, it is extremely easy to shower favored constituencies with the cash. It is not so easy to shower interest groups with some of my time, or some of my athletic prowess or my cooking ability, etc.

What would happen in the US if by some odd circumstance, all measured incomes were identical? Do we think inequality would be eliminated? Would there be haves and have nots? And what would the authorities tax then?

One Response to “Tax My Time”

  1. Harry says:

    Watch out, Wintercow. If Chuck Schumer finds out you are happy with your time with your kids, he’ll be thinking about taxing you for your pleasure. His principle is: as long as some people are having more pleasure than any of my mysanthropic constituents, it’s time to level the playing field, which means sending money to the Park Department in Rochester, to level the field around Tiny’s Bengal Inn, or where Tiny’s used to be, out by the beach.

    I never had a chance to ask about your handle, “Wintercow.” It conjures up for me a pleasant image, since I have known so many Holsteins, who prefer cold weather.

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