G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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I’m fond of the ‘Big Salad’ argument of income redistribution. You may remember the scene from Seinfeld in which George becomes angry that his girlfriend at the time takes credit for the Big Salad that he purchases for Elaine. To analogize the entire taxation mechanism in this country, George is the taxpayer (imagine that he’s a 1%-er in this scenario – lots of lettuce) while his girlfriend is the evil bureaucrat taking credit for George’s gift. As Costanza says elsewhere, “George is gettin’ angry!”
I find it remarkable that I have yet to receive a thank you note for paying my taxes. When I fill out my taxes, I notice that even receipts for $25 donations have thank you notes attached. But for the tens of thousands of dollars I give each year to help keep our wonderful Republic afloat, nothing. Can’t we do a little more as a nation to honor our taxpayers individually?
Cowen may have forgotten his colleague Bryan Caplan’s similar argument:
Imagine the following scenario: Recipients of food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and student loans suddenly start expressing daily heartfelt gratitude to the taxpayers who provide for them. The eager proponents of these programs stop angrily demanding more. Instead, they spend their days proclaiming their appreciation for everyone who forks over their hard-earned dollars to help those in need. When asked, “Should we spend more?,” proponents coyly reply, “You’re doing so much already. Can you really can afford it?”
I added my own flair:
Think of it like this: if you’re a man, say you took a date out to dinner and a movie and even bought her gifts and flowers (talk about a Ponzi scheme). How would you feel if she complained that you didn’t take her to a better restaurant or didn’t buy her a nice enough purse or brought lilies instead of roses? And what if she called you cheap afterwards? And even if she wasn’t so hostile, what if she never said “Thank you”?
So if I were in the business of trying to get rich people to pay more in taxes, I’d behave more like any good fundraiser (or gold digger or stripper). I’d beef up my target’s ego; tell them they’re the best; thank them profusely for their contribution. And a smart one doesn’t screw the pooch by getting huffy and puffy if the whale doesn’t come through on the initial visit. The expert procurer wears a smile and says “thank you”. It’s good for business.
But liberal-progressives aren’t in a rhetorical position to say ‘thank you’. They speak of taxes in terms of duty. They remind me of the restaurant patron who refuses to be friendly to waitstaff because “it’s their job”. And in other contexts, some people adopt the theory that being nice and thankful to someone for a service performed will weaken the pressure on that person to perform the service. That’s how it seems to be in this tax scheme. If we thank large taxpayers then we’re sending them the message that they aren’t doing their duty; that their contribution is gratuitous.