In order to understand why the wealthy should (and should want to) pay more taxes, you need only consider your home.
First, you buy your home with money that you have earned. Then you pay for maintenance costs — heating, water, sewer, repairs and property taxes — again with money which you have earned and on which you have paid income taxes. Finally, you buy homeowner’s insurance to protect your investment with money on which you also have paid income taxes — and the greater the value of your home, the larger will be the cost of the insurance.
Homeowners insurance is kind of a tax you pay to protect the wealth that you have invested in your property. There are many other similar insurances that you might purchase to protect other aspects of your wealth.
I submit that our system of progressive marginal income taxation is a form of insurance by which the wealthy are assessed a larger amount to protect their greater wealth.
It has been within the framework of our American society — its opportunities and its protections — that the wealthy have gained their wealth and prospered, be it by hard work or inheritance. Maintaining such a society, however, and securing both public and private wealth is not without cost; and the risks for the wealthy when that society is not adequately supported are proportionately greater.
Security comes from the maintenance of our military to protect us from foreign threats and from funding our police and firefighters to protect us from internal threats and natural disasters, the value of which is greater for the wealthy who have more to lose without those protections.
Allowing infrastructure to deteriorate throws sand into the cogs of commerce. Providing education for our youth to keep them productive and employed maintains not only our position amongst the nations but costs us far less than the consequences of unemployment and ignorance. The price of poverty is high and poverty engenders costly crime and social unrest.
Ill health in the community is an expensive drain. On the other hand, a family with an adequate income and a chance to improve itself in an upwardly mobile society is a family willing to allow a certain disparity in wealth.
Thus, it behooves the wealthy, even without calling upon their better natures, to protect their wealth by paying higher taxes to support those public programs which maintain a secure and productive society.
But, what about altruism, the compassionate exercise that tries to lift up those who by chance or misfortune are at the lowest end of our economically disparate society? In this era of concentrated self-gratification, if not outright greed, the willingness to pay only for what one directly receives and without concern for others and the future, I hesitate to elaborate. I leave it to better educators than myself to teach or at least remind the wealthy that no matter how much one thinks he (or she) is “self-made” he did not gain his wealth or position solely by dint of his own effort.
There are always others who have helped, some to whom are known and can be thanked and repaid and others who always will remain unknown. The only way they can be thanked or repaid is by helping and being charitable to others.
Enough said, but eventually those whose sole interest is self-interest will not fare well if their society collapses around them.
The wealthy should be made to be more responsible and to feel fortunate to be able to pay more taxes than they now do.
Dr. Sidney R. Block lives in Belfast and practices rheumatology in Bangor.