Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Stephen Moore's idea of fairness

I am more and more disappointed by the quality of the stuff that get printed on the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. A particularly egregious example is the piece by Stephen Moore called "A Fairness Quiz for the President" that appeared on Tuesday. It includes some plainly inaccurate statements. For example, he claims that "in 27 states workers can be compelled to join a union to keep their jobs." This was outlawed in 1947. Workers may have to pay a fee to the union for representing them in negotiations with the employer, but they are not forced to join. And of course, they are not forced to work in a unionized workplace at all. His assessment of the administration's economic policy takes 2007 as its benchmark, when Obama did not take office until January 2009. On energy subsidies, he takes the very not-conservative view that tax expenditures (special industry breaks and loopholes) are not subsidies when they benefit the oil industry. He claims that most Americans are "denied the free choice" to send their children to elite private schools as the Obamas do. But anybody with the money can send their kids to private school (I'm sure the Obamas pay), and financial aid is available for many without the money. Tax dollars are not being used to subsidize those who now can't afford to repay their mortgages, as Moore claims. You have to be current on you mortgage to get benefits under any of the current programs. You'll find more howlers like this if you look.

But worse is the twisted idea of fairness that Moore seems to hold. He claims it is unfair that the richest 10% of Americans pay 65% of the income taxes. But of course they should pay a disproportionate share, because they receive a disproportionate share of the income, and have an even more disproportionate share of discretionary income. He claims it is not fair for people to pay estate tax when they die. But what exactly is supposed to be fair, or even economically efficient, about people inheriting millions of dollars that they did nothing to earn? The estate tax is one of the fundamental foundations of capitalism. It preserves the incentives for the scions of wealthy families to work and save and contribute to the economy, rather than becoming leeches on their families. It also prevents the emergence of a hereditary aristocracy, and the revival of a feudal political and economic system. It promotes equality. It is the essence of fairness.

Is it fair that those who work pay taxes to support unemployment benefits? Is it fair that young people have to pay into Social Security? Of course it is! Workers paying those taxes now will need those benefits if and when they are laid off or retire. They are paying a premium for a form of social insurance that the market will not provide.

If this strange notion of fairness is common now (and almost 4000 people recommend this article on the WSJ website), I fear for our country. True moral understanding is vanishing among us, beginning with elementary truthfulness, but including democracy and equity.

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