Taxation - A Thought Experiment

As a comment made to a link within my previous post, this little “thought experiment” in regards to taxation puts the effects of taxes on businesses and individuals into easily understandable terms.

A thought experiment suggested by Mr. Rich Karlgaard writing for Forbes.

Imagine your tax rates for a week’s work:

0% on Monday
25% on Tuesday
50% on Wednesday
75% on Thursday
100% on Friday

Would you work on Friday? Not many would.

Reading the comments following this one the consensus was that no one would work on Friday and quite a few would also forgo working on Thursday as well. One wouldn't even work past Tuesday because as he wrote “...I've received 70% of my potential net income for the week. I think I call it quits at that point and go fishing for the next five days.”

As another commenter opined “No industry will even bother to open from Wed[nesday] to Friday.”

This thought experiment is a perfect illustration how what seems to be a reasonable policy to those making it would have a devastating effect on the economy, with businesses closed for 4 or 5 days out of seven because they can't get anyone to work past the first two or three days. There's no incentive to do so. In fact, there's plenty of incentive not to. The theoretical policy makers overlooked one very important factor that would greatly change the outcome: human nature.

The tax policy in the experiment assumed everyone would work all 5 days of the week because it would be for the good of all. But it wouldn't happen because, quite frankly, we humans aren't all that altruistic. Once the disincentive to work outweighs the difficult-to-find altruism, people will stop working.

And so it is with the proposed changes in the tax code. All they will be is a big disincentive for a lot of people who would otherwise work hard and make more money. If the only thing they're going to get out of that hard work is even higher taxes and less take home pay, they won't bother putting in the effort. Why should they? After all they aren't really being compensated for all that extra effort and are, in fact, being punished for it. That's one hell of an incentive to keep their income to a level where they can pay their bills with a little bit left over, and screw the rest. In turn, the government won't raise the revenue they think they will and the economy will continue it's slide to the bottom.

One other thing the proposed high taxes will allow? It will grant those in Congress the power to grant favors by creating all kinds of loopholes and tax shelters for those who will support them in their bids for re-election.

But wait, isn't this where we came in, when tax rates in the past were very high but the effective tax rate was low for the top earners because of the thousands of favors and exemptions granted by Congress? It looks like it to me.