For fiscal, moral reasons, the rich should pay more
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By Peter S. Fosl and Avery H. Kolers
Resolving the public debt crisis is not, of course, just a matter of economic science figuring out how spending and tax proposals will affect GDP, interest rates, employment and the like.
It's also a moral question about who should bear the costs of the fix: Should rich people — "job creators" — face marginally higher taxes, or should poor and elderly and working people face cuts in services?
Conservatives today support the second option.
We think, however, that on moral grounds they've got it backwards: the wealthiest strata of U.S. society should bear the largest burden.
One of the fundamental moral commitments of a democracy is to equality. But what treatment does equality require here?
Each taxpayer could pay an equal amount or, as flat-tax supporters might suggest, an equal proportion of the cost. Neither of these options, however, would really be fair, since rich and poor face proportionally unequal needs.
Costs that would be met by Donald Trump with discretionary pocket change, even proportionally equal costs, would impose a massive sacrifice of necessities on most others. It is actually more equitable, therefore, for the wealthy to pay more.
The idea that we should place a larger burden upon the rich is reinforced by the ideal of equal citizenship. Inequalities of wealth breed inequalities of power, and as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt acknowledged in his famous "Four Freedoms" speech of 1941, freedom requires "freedom from want."
FDR's acknowledgment simply echoes sentiments that are as American as Thomas Jefferson, whose democratic vision saw a nation of independent freeholders.
But there's one more reason why it's proper for the wealthy today to bear the burden of fixing the debt crisis — the egalitarian idea that each should benefit from a collective project.
Nearly all economic gains the U.S. economy has made over the last three decades have gone to the wealthy.
Since the election of Ronald Reagan, while workers' productivity and the economy as a whole have doubled in size, median wages and salaries have remained virtually unchanged.
Over the same period, the gross income of the richest 1 percent has nearly quadrupled and their taxes have been slashed. When all of us work together to create economic growth, it is grossly inequitable that only a tiny sliver of the population grabs it.
Some say that the rich don't "grab" that value but redistribute it to everyone by creating jobs. But the record on income, wealth and unemployment of the last three decades shows that this is not so.
Job creation requires not only the investments of the wealthy, but also the labor of workers, the spending of well paid consumers and the entrepreneurial gusto of college graduates unburdened by excessive debt.
By all means, then, favor the job creators: the workers, the students and the consumers — not just the executives and the tycoons.
In terms, then, of need, freedom and fairness, equality demands that the costs of addressing the public debt crisis we face should be borne principally by the wealthiest citizens of our polity.
Peter S. Fosl is a professor of philosophy at Transylvania University; Avery H. Kolers is a professor of philosophy at the University of Louisville. Both sit on the board of the Kentucky Labor Institute.