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Latest Issue

Fair Shares of Debt

December 8, 2023

Don’t Tax You. Don’t Tax Me. Tax That Fellow Behind the Tree

-   Attributed to Senator Russell B. Long, Louisiana ~1930s

One thing you learn when writing about the debt problem, as I have been in recent weeks, is that many people think it’s not a problem at all. They believe we could easily balance the budget by (insert simplistic idea here).

It’s scary to think some problems are so big we can’t even understand them, much less solve them. Convincing ourselves the solutions exist but are being ignored provides some mental comfort. It lets us blame some nebulous “they” instead of taking responsibility for our own part of the problem.

In my October 27 Debt Catharsis letter, I talked about the difficulty of balancing the federal budget with only spending cuts or only tax increases. Those paths are closed now. That’s one consequence of waiting too long; the available options grow narrower and more difficult.

Yet people continue to say we could balance the budget and pay down the debt by (for instance) “making the rich pay their fair share.” I wish it were that easy. I really do. But sadly, as I’ll show you today, it’s not.

Part of the problem is we have to define what it is to be “rich” and then what is “fair share.” As it turns out, that is not easy.

Soaking the Rich

The US income tax system is designed to be progressive, meaning the percentage owed rises as income rises. For a long time, it was so progressive that only the very wealthy paid anything at all. That’s not...

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