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Sometimes, the inspiration doesn't come until a bit late
So this weekend's music was mostly off of Kate's father's playlist, and it happened that Janis Joplin came up a couple of times. That seems to have percolated in the back of my brain, because this came out in the middle of the night:

Lord, won't you buy me the Pre-si-den-cy.
I think I deserve it, since I'm a Romney.
And it will ensure that I remain tax-free.
Oh, lord, won't you buy me the Pre-si-den-cy.

Lord, won't you buy me a house painted white.
I know that it's small, but I'll try to pack light.
To earn it, I've made sure my wings are quite Right.
Oh, lord, won't you buy me a house painted white.

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It would be interesting to see next year's tax return. Of course, at $1.3m, last year he paid more in taxes than you will in your entire lifetime.

True, but I have very little sympathy for current right-wing whinging about taxes -- despite being someone who aspires to wealth, I think the Buffet rule is a pretty good idea.

That is, while you're correct, I am still of the opinion that Romney's various tax dodges are scandalous. His SEP-IRA alone should have been a much bigger issue than it was -- that appears to be gaming the system to extremes at best, and insider trading at worst.

Yes, this does come into some debateable issues of appropriate taxation. But by and large, my view of the ethics is fairly clear: Romney and his ilk are taking advantage of the system to an unreasonable degree. Not quite "tax-free", no -- but low enough for me to be comfortable with my poetic license.

(And feel free to remind me of this post if I do wind up making my millions at some point. Never a bad thing to have some perspective injected...)

For myself, I think that figuring out your taxes shouldn't require any sort of moral judgement of what's appropriate. In that sense, I view claims of gaming the system to mean that the rules are badly written. For myself, I'd be perfectly in favor of a simplified system of x% of income, with a poverty cutoff someplace we decide it should be, and then no differentiation about how you got your income. But given that we don't do that, I think people should get to do what their tax accountants tell them in good conscience.

That's a 'flat tax', and it is a regressive tax system. You are requiring the bottom end of the scale to pay a higher percentage of their discretionary income than a person at the higher end of the scale.

Hence the have graduated tax rates, which is supposed to be 'more fair'.

On top of that (sticking to income and payroll taxes as this example) the system is used to incentivise certain types of spending (house purchases, retirement investments, electric vehicles, purchasing health care, charitable donations). The tax system needs a severe re-write and simplification -- for instance, possibly eliminating the asymmetric taxation rates based on the source of income -- but there is no truly simple solution that maintains the same structural designs and flexibility.

(and this blissfully ignores the 'poverty line' which has more to do with politics than actual spending power, state/local level taxation, tax-free income, etc. Not to mention the issues with corporate taxes).

Yes, I know the arguments. And I also know the counterarguments, which you've neglected to mention, past putting more fair in quotes. Really, I was just demoing a system that is simple enough that gaming it would not be an issue. Feel free to pick any graduated tax rate you like, and the example is still basically the same.

Yes and no. I agree that the rules are badly written, but that is, in and of itself, apparently due to a fairly interesting example of regulatory capture.

The system provides *extremely* strong incentives for the rich to do everything feasible to influence elections in a way that favors their tax situation. (Mostly in small ways -- buying influence to get loopholes written in -- but sometimes in larger ones like the big capital-gains cut some years back or the current top-end-bracket fight.) That's a larger-scale game, which has been playing out over the course of decades. Along the way, it's done no small collateral damage to the system as a whole, admittedly as just one of a collection of problematic tweaks.

Mind, I'm not positing any grand conspiracies or anything like that -- it doesn't require anything more than rich people acting in their own self-interest, with each step entirely legal. But from a system dynamics POV, such things can gradually unbalance. That appears to be the case here, and I suspect that the rebalancing won't be pretty. (Historically, it tends not to be.)

I've seen you and Cariadoc each make such statements recently. It strikes me as disingenuous, especially since the two of you are the ones who taught *me* about diminishing marginal utility of money. The amount of utility that Romney gave up in taxes had significantly less impact on his life than that of the average tax burden. Which, of course, you know. Which, to my mind, makes statements such as the above tantamount to deliberate deceit.

[I begin to think that English could use a word for "statement which is not, strictly speaking, false, but which is intended to cause the listener to believe something that *is* false". The Republican Neo-Cons are masters of this rhetorical technique.]

What boots that? That the marginal value of the money is less from the rich's point of view is a practical matter, not a particularly moral one. That is, unless you ascribe to the notion of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", as admittedly many people do, I don't see any intrinsic reason why one person should owe the state 1000+ x per year what another one might, other than the fact that they have it to hand over.

I find your distinction between matters "practical" and "moral" to also be disingenuous. Are not all systems of taxation fundamentally based in some moral code's definition about what is a 'fair' tax? [Admittedly, in the degenerate case, the code is "might makes right".]

It's perfectly reasonable to have disagreements about the moral bases of tax codes. (or other morality-related issues). It irks me when folks behave as if their particular position is empirically and obviously correct, without acknowledging that it is only 'correct' within a specific (and arguable) moral framework. Especially when I happen to disagree with that moral framework, of course. ["From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is... a reasonable description of my current opinion, at least in terms of economy and taxation.]

It seems to me (note the opinion qualifier) that the tax code exists for two purposes:
1) To raise revenue for government expenditures.
2) To encourage some behaviors and discourage others.

#1 everyone seems to agree on though how much and what expenditures is the subject of great debate.
#2 is where it gets convoluted and one person's loophole is anther's desired outcome. Examples: As a nation, we wanted to encourage home ownership so we created the mortgage deduction. Now, when the mortgage mess is part of what got us into the current economy, there is talk of reducing or getting rid of it. We wanted to encourage investment, so unearned income is taxed less. Now, concerns about the gap between the rich and everyone else is causing there to be a debate about what's "fair".

What I would like to see is every deduction and the entire tax code have a statement of intended purpose and the debate center around whether the purpose is worthy and whether the purpose accomplished the purpose it is trying to achieve. That addition would be far better than a "simplification" to a regressive system.

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