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Jewish World Review April 17, 2000 / 12 Nissan, 5760

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas
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A taxing time

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
MY CORRESPONDENT identified herself as 25 years old and a student. Responding to a column I wrote lamenting bigger and ever-encroaching government, she called me "lucky'' for what she perceives as my success and intimated that whatever monetary returns have come my way ought to be shared with others who are not as "fortunate.''

This is a prevailing attitude today, so different from my parents' and their parents' generations. If you have anything it is not because you worked hard, disciplined yourself, avoided bad behavior and wrong decisions, stayed married, didn't use drugs or sire children out of wedlock and, therefore, earned your rewards. No, you are "lucky'' and those who behaved, acted, thought and decided in different ways deserve some of your income because they do not enjoy your fortune.

It does no good to argue that for most of my life I made an income that today would qualify me for some types of public assistance, or that I never accepted this as my lot, but kept trying until I broke through. It only matters that I "made it,'' while, in the mind of this woman, many others have not. So I should pay. Rather than being a role model for persistence, I am branded selfish and greedy if I complain about turning over increasing amounts of the money I have earned to others. People who relieve others of their money with guns are called robbers. It does not alter the immorality of the act when the income transfer is carried out by government. Lest I be regarded as stingy, I told her, I do give substantial amounts to church and charities and even individuals of my choosing.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) has said much the same as my correspondent. His metaphor is a deck of cards. Some are dealt good hands and others poor ones. It's all kismet. You are neither responsible nor accountable, and so government must make things "fair'' by redistributing income. This does not encourage wiser decisions or better behavior. It subsidizes those actions we once sought to discourage and penalizes those actions we once tried to promote.

Politicians have created a huge class of people who pay little or no tax and are increasingly dependent on government. Many receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, allowing them to collect money they have not earned. That used to be called socialism; we call it welfare. When there is talk of tax cuts, pollsters interview many of these non-taxpayers and discover they're against tax cuts. Why? Well, the cuts wouldn't reduce their tax bite, because they pay don't pay any, but such cuts might reduce their income. Headlines proclaim only "the rich'' want tax cuts, and so the proposals evaporate.

Rather than stories about people who began in simple circumstances and rose to the top of their chosen fields, inspiring others to do likewise (we used to call them Horatio Alger stories), our contemporary accounts are of greedy businessmen who earn "too much'' and of how government punishes them. It makes the less successful feel better. Microsoft's Bill Gates is just the latest example.
So he lost an estimated $11 billion when the stock market slid following a court decision that declared his company a monopoly. Gates can afford it. He's rich, but you're not, and so you have no sympathy for him. Besides, he doesn't "deserve'' to have that much money.

But what if Gates were forced at some point to lay off workers because the company is no longer as successful as it had been? It would be Gates' fault because he would be trying to increase his profits through layoffs and that is evil.

What this country needs is a mandatory course in economics for all its citizens, beginning in elementary school. A new national survey conducted by the Jump$tart (cq) Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy found only half of 723 soon-to-graduate high school seniors correctly answered 32 multiple-choice questions about economics and personal finance. If young people are not taught about economics, they are setting themselves up for sleights of hand by politicians. And that will be more taxing than bad luck.

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