Taxing different kinds of wealth

By Bruce Walker
web posted October 9, 2000

Al Gore recently hit on the oldest mantra in the Cult of the Left: Tax fairness. Dick Gephardt's recitation of why some people do better financially that others is his famous reference to "The winners in life's lottery." The function of government - that benevolent manifestation of human wisdom - is to make life fair.

But he and his fellow liberals stop short. They are too timid. Life is unfair, but in many more ways than wealth. What is "wealth" anyway? Money is just one of the many ways in which some of us, unfairly, have advantages over others; and money itself is just one the ways of having material wealth.

Physical beauty is worth lots of money (ask any fashion model). Should we tax these gorgeous women who, without effort in many cases, have been born with perfect noses, nice figures, delightfully contoured cheekbones, and all the other elements of beauty? Have they not, surely, won big in life's lottery? Ask a homely woman that question!

Some dieting may be required, of course, to be a good fashion model. A sense of fashion and style, but these are hardly as arduous as - say - the lonely and despised life the garbage collector. Besides, these high fashion models get more than just money (ask any woman who is not a high fashion model); they get near slavish devotion from dizzy males.

Deion Sanders

But let's not pick on a single gender. What about those men who are tall and well proportioned? Those who make the rest of us men look like (and feel) like teenagers? Or what about those young men given by Providence athletic gifts that "can't be coached"? Deion Sanders may work hard, but only one man in ten thousand who worked that hard could do what he does: he was born with speed.

We need not look at the obvious, physical specimens - what about born geniuses? A Pope called Mozart "Amadeus" - beloved of God - for clear reasons; the child was clearly born with music in his genes. Capablanca, the greatest chess player in the world, taught himself to play the game, and had beaten the best players in Cuba while his was a mere boy. These boys often involved their lives in music, chess, math or whatever other subject they superlatively mastered. But that is not the point; no one else could have done what they did, not in a lifetime of devoted work. Should these prodigies not be taxed as well?

Some people are born with voices like songbirds, and some with voices that make us cringe. Some people are born with perfect health, and some with weak health all their lives. Some people have loving parents, and some have early lives that are nightmares.

In some sense, liberals like Gephardt can say nod their heads and say: "Exactly, these random events are what make some people rich and other people poor; let's tax those who were lucky to help those who were not." Money is the closest way of measuring luck, and it can be calibrated precisely. A siren song to those who seek justice.

But only a child sees this as truly just. What about happiness itself? Is this not what money is all about? If someone is unhappy, what does money matter? And if some poor is happy, then what exactly is the money to be used to buy? To be fair, to be really fair, should we not tax happiness itself? Should we not compel all citizens to submit to psychometric tests that determine the individual's level of happiness, and then carefully adjust that so that we are all just as happy (or unhappy) as our fellow humans?

This, of course, is what totalitarian states do. This, of course, is what George Orwell understood the true end of all this. "Happiness?" - well that is more or less a decision of the individual - but misery is something else. The Inner Party in 1984 had one function: to cause pain. That is what fairness in taxation is all about - causing pain. The joy of mankind is not diminished by the musical genius of Mozart, by the speed, strength, and agility of Jim Thorpe, by the insight into space and form of Frank Lloyd Wright, or by the subtle verse of Emily Dickinson; and the happiness of one normal person is not helped by the misery of others.

The natural tax on beautiful models, in such a wicked world, would be brutal rape. What these beauties offer in civilized societies for many perks and pleasure would be seized by force. The natural tax on Jim Thorpe would be physically crippling injury or illness. The natural tax on cheerful people would be needless pain, and so forth on the long, grim trail to Hell.

The marketplace counts more than dollars. Those who waste their winnings in "life's lottery" tend to end up worse than before; just skim the biographies of those who never had to work for much. They waste fortunes, but they waste much more as well.

There is a peace that comes from doing one's best, whatever the consequences. It is a moral calm that has proven through the ages immune to many terrors and endless tyrants. Perhaps this should be taxed as well. After all, is not the moral goodness of Albert Schweitzer, Rebbe Scheerson, Mother Teresa, and all other transcendently compassionate people also a slap in the face of those with darker hearts? So tax goodness, decency, and integrity as well.

Some of us trust in divine justice, but pure materialists - like Orwell - saw that even in a reality of pure quanta and void, luck evens out over time. And the God he would not trust to make things right is, at least, more just than the whims of politicians who see fairness and justice from in the dimmest of lights and from the narrowest of perspectives.

So let Messrs. Gore and Gephardt be truly brave: let him propose to tax all luck in life, all beauty and all youth, all genius and all art, all peace and all joy. Let them tax goodness itself. Let them tax truth and principle. Let Gore and Gephardt and their chums tax us and regulate us into the elusive justice that seems to always make the world gloomy and life bitter - and makes all of us equal.

Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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