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Can you hold the idea of “equal pay for equal work” and still be a strong advocate of progressive taxation?

Ignore the moral arguments against progressive taxation – which include the political view of the founders warning against the tyranny of the majority … focus on the logical consistency for the moment.

The idea of equal pay for equal work seems to be derived from a natural desire for people being treated as equals. Assume that really is what is being advocated for. The idea of progressive taxation would seem to stand in contrast to that, with some people being treated differently than others. I suppose you could argue against me here that under progressive systems like the US that if you earn the same amount as someone else then your taxes will be similar.

There are additional logical challenges. My wife, for example, earns considerably less than people who do 100% identical work as she does. Because of the principal of progressive taxation, the second she married me she guarnateed this would happen. Adding her income to mine puts her in a higher bracket than if she were single, and on top of that since she is covered by my health policy, she declined health coverage but received zero of the cash value of that. So, receives far less than each of her co-workers for doing identical work. This is exclusively a direct consequence of a progressive taxation system. So clearly folks seem to be perfectly fine with unequal pay for equal work …

As a general argument, what happens to my wife is no different than what happens to people who may otherwise be paid nominally the same but who work more than others. Their hourly work delivers them less remuneration than others doing identical hourly work. Lest you think that the REASON folks are paid differently matters, this makes the two ideas sit very uncomfortably next to each other.

I’ve yet to see very much acknowledgement of these sort of twisty pretzels in political-economic views, but I think this is because thinking through the logical conclusions of particular views is a lot of work and often leads to conundrums that probably would require any reasonable person to soften otherwise hard views or have to rethink views entirely.


One Response to “Unequal Pay for Equal Work”

  1. jb says:

    Nice piece of reasoning. And with no fancy modeling or econometrics, my favorite kind. Cant wait to break it out the next time my progressive friends start grousing about unequal pay.

    As an employer, whenever I hear the phrase “equal pay for equal work” I immediately think “there’s yet another risk/time consuming administrative chore I’ll face the next time I consider whether to expand my staff”… AI, outsourcing, etc. look more attractive at the margin every day.

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