Taxpayers Should Pay Their Fair Share

President Obama, asking for $1.5 trillion in new taxes, says “It’s only right we ask everyone to pay their fair share.”  Few would disagree.  The disagreement comes in terms of defining each taxpayer’s fair share.

The top 1% of taxpayers pay 38% of total income taxes.  The top 5% pay 59% and the top 10% pay 70% of total income taxes.  President Obama hasn’t specified what, exactly, he believes the fair share of upper income taxpayers to be, but presumably it is higher than this.

More alarming, the federal income tax system has become so skewed that more than half of all households pay no federal income tax.  One must wonder about the future of a democracy in which a majority pay nothing for what the government produces.  What limits the size of government when a majority can vote themselves more benefits at the expense of a minority?

Today, as the federal government consumes 25% of GDP and there are serious debates about whether we, as a nation, want bigger government paid for by more taxes or a smaller government and tax reductions, every voter should have some skin in the game.

Every voter should pay taxes so that for every voter the choice is, do I want to pay more taxes for bigger government, or do I want to reduce my tax burden and have smaller government?  As it is today, for the majority who pay no taxes, the cost of bigger government falls on others.

Taxpayers should pay their fair share.  As I see it, if the president wants a $1.5 trillion tax increase, at least some of it should be paid by those who currently pay no taxes, partly because it is fair that everyone pay some of the cost of running their government.  A stronger argument is that voters should not have the option of voting for more government spending if they are not bearing some of the cost.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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