Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is in the progressive limelight yet again today because of her latest proposal: raise the federal income tax on top earners to 70%. This, of course, is being heralded by progressives; at least by those in my social circle. Why shouldn’t those who have an inordinate amount of money be forced to give some of it up for the common good? This is a good question (in their eyes), but I have a question of my own.
Why are we only taxing money?
I have a friend — let’s call him John. Like many people in my social circle, John is a “democratic socialist,” but John is unique in that he and I are so alike in all of the ways socialists think matter: we’re both white, heterosexual, grew up on the same side of town and in the same school district; both in families that were lower-middle class; we both graduated high school the same year; possess relatively similar intelligence and physical ability, etc. Demographically, we’re damn near identical, but there are two ways where we differ greatly: in ideology and values.
Before I continue, I want to make something as clear as I possibly can: I am not vaunting what I value above what he values. I am not saying that I chose a better path than him, or anything of the like. Likewise, I’m not saying the opposite: the path he chose is not “better” than the one I chose. I’m merely laying out the stark difference between those paths.
I don’t want to give away too much information here, so I’ll keep it vague.
John has pursued things that he enjoys and loves immensely. He works in a career field that many would say should be relegated to a hobby. He reads hundreds of books every year because he loves reading and learning. He explores different cultures and foods he finds fascinating. He decided to pursue things he found interesting in college rather than things that would generate income. He left the economic security of home to move to the city where the love of his life, and now wife and mother of his child, live.
I have taken, well, essentially the exact opposite path. I put off college, deciding instead to enlist in the military and learn a trade in my state’s Air National Guard. Shortly after my enlistment was over, I got a job contracting overseas. Instead of moving to a city with my wife, whom I love just as much as John loves his, I opted to leave so I could help secure us financially for the future. I, admittedly, make a lot of money right now because I’m in a third-world country living in half a trailer and working six days a week every week, in a physically-demanding industry. Also, the summers are very hot, and that sucks too.
I did this because I saw people very close to me put in hard, dire situations financially at all points in their lives. I saw how these situations impacted their relationships, their plans for retirement, and most of all their general happiness, and decided when I was a teenager that I never wanted to be in that situation. I have gone to great lengths to do everything I can to insure myself against those situations. I work a job I don’t like in a place I don’t want to be, separated from everyone I love and care for, to try and make sure that I’m never in that situation. I have sacrificed a great deal; sacrifices I didn’t have to make, to pursue that goal of shoring myself and my family against the buffeting winds of financial uncertainty.
John has taken the exact opposite path. Instead of sacrificing his personal fulfillment in career for money, he has sacrificed his potential earnings for fulfillment. Instead of spending his spare time researching investments and starting his own entrepreneurial ventures, he spends his spare time reading about things he enjoys reading about. I sacrificed time with my loved ones for economic security, he sacrificed economic security to be with his loved ones.
And all of that is, once again, perfectly fine! We simply value different things at this stage in our lives.
But it does make wonder why he, and my other “democratic socialist” friends, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, feel entitled to tax a huge sum of what I gain, in pursuit of the things I value, when he gets taxed very little or not at all in pursuit of the things he values.
Why is it, that because I have pursued different things than he has, that they feel I should have to give up 70% of what I earn – or whatever massive number AOC and her followers would like to tax people who make as much money as I currently make?
We all have 24 hours in a day. That’s our resource, the primary resource that all of us have, universally. That’s true equality right there, no matter where we were born, what our last name is, we all have 24 hours in a day; no more, no less. I choose to spend that resource to pursue economic stability, while John, and a vast number of socialist friends in my circle, choose to spend that resource pursuing things they enjoy. Why do I have to sacrifice so much of what I gained spending that resource when they don’t have to give up anything they gained from how they spent their resource?
Put simply, if I spend 10 hours of my potential leisure time working overtime, it is taxed at, let’s say 40%, after all taxes are accounted for. This is, from what I am told ad infinitum, “the price we pay for a civilized society.”
Yet, when my peers spend those same 10 hours opting to read, or go out with the friends or loved ones, or watch TV, or play video games, or browse social media, or get high, or get drunk, or doing whatever it is that they enjoy doing, none of that gets taxed. Society benefits nothing, except for perhaps very vaguely and tangentially, from these activities, but if I complain about my egregious tax rate, I’m “selfish.”
So, I’d like to issue a proposal. Socialists want to tax those with “disproportionately high incomes” at 70%? Fine, I’ll agree to that, the moment they also agree to tax the time of those with a “disproportionately high amount of leisure time” at 70% as well.
How would that play out? Well, that evil 1% can be summed up quite nicely with CEOs. Harvard conducted a study of CEO work hours and found that they work an average of 62.5 hours a week or an average of 8.9 hours a day, every day of the week. To put that into perspective, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average American works 3.6 hours a day, meaning CEOs are spending 56% of their waking hours working towards the acquisition of money while the average American spends about 23%. Once again, keep in mind that these CEOs have the same 24 hours a day that we all have, and they are using that one, fundamental resource to pursue the collection of money. Since AOC and my friend John want to tax the always-maligned 1% at 70%, it seems fair to me to use their work hours as our baseline, and that 70% as our top tax rate. So, whatever hours an individual works (defined by generating taxable income, with income taxes being paid) will be subtracted from 62.5, and we’ll call that “leisure time.”
Let’s keep our “leisure time” tax consistent to the income tax. So, if you have very little, say 5 hours or less, of “leisure time” you owe no “leisure time” tax. From 5 hours up to 62.5 hours of “leisure time” the tax rate increases, all the way up to Ocasio-Cortez’s applauded 70% rate. So, people who don’t work at all will be charged 43.75 hours (70% of 62.5) of “leisure tax.”
What would this tax entail? Well, these people aren’t generating taxable income that society can benefit from during those hours, so whatever your “leisure time” tax comes out to is time that you are legally mandated to perform some type of volunteer service that is assigned to you by the federal government. We’ll even make a new 3 letter bureau to enforce it, say, the “Leisure and Responsibility Service” or LRS, just to keep it fun. The LRS will tell you where you are to log your volunteer hours based on your expertise and physical fitness, utilizing some type of “from every person according to their ability” assignment system. So, if you are a young, fit male, for example, you might be assigned to pay your “leisure tax” by building roads, while the old or infirm could be assigned to clerical work, etc.
And what happens if you refuse this unpaid labor the LRS has determined you owe society? Well, the same thing that happens to anyone who doesn’t pay their taxes. Your bank and investment accounts will be seized to pay your bill. If you don’t have enough money to pay your bill, the LRS will send men to take your possessions away from you. If you don’t have enough possessions to pay your bill, the LRS will send men with guns and haul you off to jail.
If all of this seems fundamentally wrong to you, just remember that it’s a tax, and taxes are, after all “The price we pay to live in a civilized society.”
If the notion of stealing people’s time and labor under threat of physical violence and imprisonment seems “uncivilized” to you, well, I would agree.
And I hope you keep that in mind when you think about income tax as well.
P.S. I would like to address, albeit briefly, what I’m sure some will deride me for in that I chose a military-centric career when I am taking a stance against taxes. Exploring all of my political stances on taxes, politics and the military, are far beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that I am not an anarchist and I believe the government has legitimate roles for which taxes may be levied.
Summed up: I take the “necessary evil” view of taxation, and favor a drastic reduction in the size and scope of our military operations, a view I apply to nearly everything governments of all levels are involved in. For my current contract, we are not working for the United States, but are working for and paid by our host country. And I pay a lot in taxes.