Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dear "Henry"

I read your op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal. Congratulations. You're in the 32% federal tax bracket. I'm in the 25% bracket, and haven't seen a raise in a while now. You're better off financially than the vast majority of Americans, including me, which is why you pay a lot of taxes.

You do work very hard, which is admirable, but that is not the only cause of your affluence. Many people work harder than you do and make less money. Others work less than you do, and earn more. Within occupational categories, working harder usually gets you more pay, but across occupations, the connection often fails. So don't take the view that your hard work entitles you in some way to your affluence. Markets are much more capricious than that. Economists can make a case that if markets are sufficiently competitive, the market-based distribution of income is efficient. But we know that markets, especially labor markets, are not that competitive. Neither mainstream economics nor mainstream moral philosophy gives us any reason to think that the market distribution of income has any important moral qualities. To think that we somehow "deserve" our market incomes is a mistake. (It is an increasingly common mistake in the WSJ. Arthur Brooks made the same mistake yesterday.) So pardon me, but I find it hard to feel sorry for you.

Then you complain about tax money being "wasted", too much being "confiscated", and having to "carry so many people on my back". What about all the money that went to defend your country, protect you from crime, ensure the safety of your food, pave the roads you ride on, educate you and your children, maintain the parks you enjoy, and provide high culture to enlighten you? I think you benefit a lot from your tax money, and you would miss these government services if they were gone.

You talk about dropping out and living "on the dole" for a while. Well, it's your choice I suppose. I think the reason you haven't done it yet and probably won't ever do it is that you realize how big a reduction in your standard of living would be involved. You like being affluent. Nothing wrong with that. But your whining about taxes is just ill-informed and, frankly, inappropriate.