Wesley Clark and Progressive Taxation

Now that General Wesley Clark has declared his intention to seek the Democractic Party nomination for president, I think his past statements and positions have become fair game for increased scrutiny.

On Meet The Press, in June, he said the following:

The Bush tax cuts weren’t fair. The people that need the money and deserve the money are the people who are paying less, not the people who are paying more. I thought this country was founded on a principle of progressive taxation. In other words, it’s not only that the more you make, the more you give, but proportionately more because when you don’t have very much money, you need to spend it on the necessities of life.

If he really thinks “This country was founded on the principle of progressive taxation” then he’s incompetent to be president (and the standards for Rhodes Scholarship and graduating #1 at West Point are not very impressive).

But, even if we grant that he misspoke and meant something like “The income tax in this country was founded on the principle of progressive taxation,” I still have some problems with his position.

First of all, I don’t like his appeal to tradition to support his notion of fairness. Slavery had a long tradition in this country, too. And, he should be very careful before declaring what is or is not a founding principle because he risks abusing his record of service by using it in an appeal to authority.

Secondly, I dispute his notion of fairness. It’s fair to tax people who are more productive at a higher rate than people who are less productive in the same sense that it’s fair to rob banks because “That’s where the money is.”

I don’t think any involuntary tax can be fair. But, it seems to me, if you really want to approach fairness then you’ll couple what government services an individual uses or approves of with what level of tax he pays.

But “progressive” taxation does the opposite and completely divorces these concepts. Instead, it takes the attitude of a thief (somewhat appropriately, I guess) and takes from people based on how much they have, rather than how much they fairly owe. To label this “fairness” is absurd.


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