The recent Internal Revenue Service scandal should be a great cause of alarm for every thinking American.
Many of the Founding Fathers fled to America because of the promise of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. In England and other monarchies, one could be imprisoned or killed for voicing opinions that differed from those of the rulers. If indeed we are willing to easily ignore government persecution of those who voice disagreement with its policies, then we are rapidly moving backward instead of forward in the quest for the freedom that was part of America’s promise.
We hear a lot in Washington these days about “fairness.” But there is nothing fair about targeting people or groups that disagree with the policies of the executive branch of government. There is nothing fair about a tax code filled with loopholes that can be exploited by those who can pay high-priced tax lawyers and accountants to find them. There is certainly nothing fair about a tax code that is so complex that it is virtually impossible to comply with every aspect of the thousands of pages of rules and regulations. Because of the complexity of this code, the government can target virtually anyone and find a mistake in their tax documents, which can be used to extort money or worse. We are talking of nothing less than the precursor of a totalitarian government.
We now have every reason to call for tax reform. We need to strike while the iron is hot or everyone will soon adopt a laissez-faire attitude, and the corruption will continue unabated. Many alternative forms of taxation are used throughout the world, but the model that appeals most to me is based on biblical tithing. Under that system, everyone was required to pay one-tenth of their income to the designated authorities of the theocracy. You were not excused if you experienced a crop failure, nor were you asked to pay triple tithes if you had a bumper crop. Under this system, the man with the bumper crop obviously would pay a lot more in tithes than the man who experienced the crop failure.
If we bring this concept forward to modern times and use the 10 percent model — although it could be any percentage — a Wall Street wizard who makes $10 billion a year would have to pay $1 billion, whereas a schoolteacher who makes $50,000 a year would have to contribute $5,000. Some would say this system would not be fair because it doesn’t hurt the billionaire as much as it hurts the teacher. The problem with this line of reasoning is that no one can be completely objective in determining exactly how much each person should be hurt.
Proportionality eliminates this dilemma and simplifies things to the point where we don’t need complex agencies such as the IRS. Instead of trying to decide how much we need to hurt the billionaire, we should be grateful that his contributions are building roads and keeping bridges in good repair proportionately as much as the contributions of hundreds of teachers. Of course, the teachers are making other important contributions to society, and we recognize this by giving everybody the same rights regardless of their financial status. This kind of system can work only if we eliminate loopholes and make it truly fair.
The other big plus for this proportional system of taxation is that everyone is included. We need to abandon the idea that some people are too needy and pitiful to be required to make contributions. I believe this is insulting to the poor, who may not have much money but certainly can possess dignity and self-respect. I can remember as a child getting my first paycheck and being proud and happy to make a contribution to my own well-being and that of the larger society.
Furthermore, if everyone is included in the tax base, it forces the government to be more frugal with the taxpayers’ money. Officials must answer to everyone, especially when they propose tax hikes. It is relatively easy to point the finger at a small group (the rich) and say, “Let’s get them.” This type of attitude takes advantage of some of the more undesirable human traits, such as jealousy and envy. It plays into the politics of division, which does nothing to strengthen our nation but can be helpful to those interested only in political power.
America has been and continues to be the most generous nation on earth. We love to help the less fortunate, and I hope we always care for our fellow man. We need to look for ways in which we can work together and reject all the forces that want to pull us apart. When we talk about “liberty and justice for all,” let’s make sure we mean it.
Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.