David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D. Professor of Economics 


Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100& If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this& The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing. The fifth would pay $1. The sixth would pay $3. The seventh would pay $7.. The eighth would pay $12. The ninth would pay $18. The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.   So, thats what they decided to do..

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve ball. Since you are all such good customers, he said, Im going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20. Drinks for the ten men would now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men ? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share?

They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from every bodys share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each mans bill by a higher percentage the poorer he was, to follow the principle of the tax system they had been using, and he proceeded to work out the amounts he suggested that each should now pay.

The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% saving). The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% saving). The seventh now paid $5 instead of $7 (28% saving). The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% saving). The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% saving). The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% saving).

Each of the six was better off than before.

And the first four continued to drink for free. But, once outside the bar, the men began to compare their savings.

I only got a dollar out of the $20 saving, declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, but he got $10!

Yeah, thats right, exclaimed the fifth man. I only saved a dollar too. Its unfair that he got ten times more benefit than me!

Thats true! shouted the seventh man. Why should he get $10 back, when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!

Wait a minute, yelled the first four men in unison, we didnt get anything at all. This new tax system exploits the poor! The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didnt show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didnt have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and government ministers, is how our tax system works. The people who already pay the highest taxes will naturally get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

Louis Comments Re: above

Above  is a very simple and clear explanation as to how our tax system truly works and, if abusive, how it can be destructive to our economy and well-being.  Statistically it is a good representation of who pays what in our society.  The lesson should be taken seriously.  Some politicians love the “Superficial optics” that  allows them to pick on the “top 1%”  when those people already pay more than their fair share.  Those 1%’ers are typically hardworking entrepreneurs and  professionals  who often work far more than 35 hours a week to earn their pay.  They are not  the  top 1% of 1% that are the super-rich who inherited wealth.  More importantly they are the ones that take the risks, create jobs and thus create wealth in our society.  They are the engine of our economic wealth, prosperity and largest funder of our social safety net.   Abusing them is the same as killing the goose that lays the golden egg.  I know too many of these 1%ers who are so fed up with the political rhetoric, abusive tax laws  and lack of appreciation  that they are now investing offshore to create wealth and jobs elsewhere – that is a very sad and scary fact.   So when politicians try and paint a picture that all is solved by going after the “rich” you have to ask yourselves, who are these people? Are they really rich?  How do they earn their money, how hard do they work and how important are they to society?  As illustrated above, they already pay far more than their fair share.  No one minds progressive taxation until it becomes abusive.  We need to ask:  what are the consequences to our economy and social safety net if we chase them and their job creating skills to other countries?   The politicians who promote superficial rhetoric are either purposely misleading people or not smart enough to know better.   Either answer is not good.  It is up to each individual to become knowledgeable in “cause and effect” when thinking through policies promoted by our politicians.  Vote intelligently……..not emotionally.