What Would the Pilgrims Do About Taxes?

May 11th, 2011

Imagine we were writing the Mayflower Compact today — deciding who has responsibilities, burdens and benefits in the new land.  Would anyone suggest that 45% of the citizens pay zero taxes? Of course not.  If you set up a society where almost half received benefits but did not cough up any of their own money, the Plymouth Colony would run amok, or into the ground, or into the Rock. 

And yet, that is the risk today.  Over 45% of Americans pay no federal incomes taxes (Social Security taxes don’t count, since the benefits paid out for those individuals generally exceed their withholding).  This is treacherous. 

Philosophy fans should think about John Rawls A Theory of Justice and his “veil of ignorance” (a bit like Get Smart’s “Cone of Silence” ).  Even though Rawls urged a fairly egalitarian vision of society, his structure couldn’t accept our current distortion.  It’s enough to bring down a colony, or a country.

By the way, the Plymouth colonists avoided extremely progressive taxes.  In fact, every male over 16 had to come up with a bushel of wheat.  They realized that an irresponsible tax system would bury their little society.

Finally, I’m reminded of Cole Porter’s line from Anything Goes (borrowed by Malcolm X):  “Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock would land on them.”

Look up — that Rock may be coming down on our heads 400 years later.

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