What’s a Fair Share?

The Buffet Rule - Don't be a hog, leave some for the rest of us!

The Buffett Rule was brought up in Congress and all but one Republican voted it down. Many conservative pundits are feigning disgust at Obama’s nerve in trying to push for the vote when he knew that it would not pass. That response gets a collective yawn – what do you expect in the wild west culture of campaign capitalism? It is totally fair game to put ideas out there to see how the American public feel about them.

And the American public has spoken, they like the Buffett rule. Most Americans, including most Republicans think the Buffett Rule is a good idea according to the latest CNN poll. The Buffett Rule is one that puts in place a tax floor rate of 30% for those earning a million a year or more. Buffet wrote a poignant op-ed piece which argued that he should be paying at least the same tax rate as his secretary.

Republicans in Congress voted against the wishes of most Americans.  The meme that Democrats have used is, “everyone should pay their fair share” – and it is a good one. It honestly reflects what people feel in their gut and is true to progressive principles. If you polled all Americans on that idea – if everyone should pay their fair share – you would probably get close to 100%. Fairness is part of the basic idea America was founded upon.

We just disagree on what “fair” means. It is a contested concept.

A debate usually depends on the underlying values of the ideas being put forth. Supporting evidence is useful, style is important, but the value argument that underlies all of the proposals, policies, details and facts is what wins hearts and minds. (Check out the VIP section on values here).  Training yourself to find and talk about values first will help you win arguments. Fairness is a value, but there isn’t a single concept around it. It isn’t clear in our existing frames as Americans: is it fair to tax every dollar spent? is it fair to tax every dollar made? what about dollars saved? what about dollars invested? should we tax every transaction? what if someone hides their dollars?  Is it fair to tax everyone at the same rate? Is it fair to tax those who use more services?

We should all pay our fair share. Hearing about those who got wealthier having to pay less than the rest of us doesn’t sit well in this tenuous recovery.

Often the conservative argument against the higher tax rate is to point to the actual dollar amounts for shock – Buffett paid $6.9million in taxes. Their argument resembles indignance, how could anyone expect someone to pay even more? Well, as the saying goes, everything is relative. Many stories across cultural bounds relate to the relativity of personal wealth, probably the most famous is the widow’s mite. Our country is home to extremely wealthy, penniless, and all people in between, a good portion of them are having a very hard time keeping a roof over their heads.

In capitalism, there is no limit to the amount of money you can make, and there is nothing to keep you from poverty. The tax code should reflect that if someone has greatly benefitted from our laws skewed in their favor (because often times they could influence those laws), or infrastructure that allows them to become wealthy, they owe more back to the system that treated them so well. For millions of Americans, the system has not been as kind. They have suffered job losses, home losses, and a financial insecurity that wasn’t just about being disappointed with a portfolio – it meant a much harder life.

Meanwhile, record profits have been reported and the top 1% are having good years. The inequity is especially insulting when learning exactly how the wealth concentration happened, how your money got into their bank accounts. Through lost wages, lost homes, lost payments, fees, outsourcing, price gouging, price fixing, speculating, hiring lobbyists, hiring attorneys, bullying, and basically sucking the life out of the middle class, a huge amount of money has concentrated at the top and they are not about to let the laws they paid for be changed.

Lower taxes are probably a major reason why millionaires and billionaires contribute to Republican causes, it is the ultimate rallying point that fiscal and social conservatives as well as libertarians seem to agree upon. This is why Republicans will not be flexible, without their banner of lower taxes they might not be able to unite the three main factions of their party.

It’s kind of ironic that Warren has the last name of Buffett. Pronounced differently, but it looks a lot like “buffet” – like the one in the picture. Don’t you hate it when the person in front of you in the buffet line finishes off the last of the good stuff and you are only left with the crusty scraps? The Buffet rule is an awful lot like the Buffett Rule – pay your fair share and don’t be a hog.

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2 thoughts on “What’s a Fair Share?

  1. […] That seems to be the staying meme of this election, “What is fair?“ […]

  2. […] goes straight to the heart of the value of fairness. What is fair? As mentioned in the above quote, fairness can be measured in two or more ways – distributive […]

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