Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thought Experiment on Progressive Tax Rates

By way of a thought experiment, let me illustrate why I am completely comfortable having tax rates that tax a greater percentage of our income as our income goes up.

Imagine there is a park. In this park there is a low bridge over a pond. The bridge has no handrails and the pond has a series of stepping stones that lead from the shore to a small platform below the bridge. On the bridge there are a number of individuals in wheelchairs, none of whom are able to swim. Below them on the platform is a person who fell from the bridge and is badly injured. On the shore near the stepping stones leading to the platform and the injured person is a strong, able bodied person relaxing.

It is not possible for the injured person to get to safety alone. Due to their wheelchairs and inability to swim it is not possible for the people on the bridge get to the injured person, let alone carry that person to safety. Trying would almost certainly result in additional injured people and possible deaths. What they can do is call out, make it known that someone needs help, and offer encouragement. All of which they do, alerting the able bodied person to the situation, who can easily and safely walk on the stepping stones out to the injured person and carry them to safety.

In this scenario, is it morally permissible for the able bodied person to do nothing or to do no more than the people on the bridge?

I would argue that the able bodied person is morally and ethically obligated to help. It is true that this person will have to inconvenience themselves to help. Their help is not without cost, but the cost to the able bodied person is negligible compared to the people in wheelchairs. Just as the burden of paying more in taxes is easier to bear for the wealthy, even if they are paying at higher rates. In a community, our responsibilities are heavily influenced by our capabilities and those better able to contribute to the common good ought to do so.