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The Argument

ArgumentI read a short piece in The Financial Post yesterday that I found quite illuminating. Actually, it wasn’t so much the article itself which was fairly dry and pretty straight forward. It was the comments left by people below the article.

Some of them literally took my breath away.

I see this kind of mindless chatter day after day online. There isn’t as much thinking that has gone into most of it than a three-old puts into learning how to tie their shoelaces. People have formed opinions that are based on misinformation or, in some cases, no information at all and when confronted by the inconvenience of ‘facts’, they cling to their opinion like Justin Trudeau clings to a new jar of hair mousse.

He’s not letting that sucker go no matter what natural disaster befalls the nation or even the planet.

The article clarified, based on readily available data from government, who pays what in terms of income taxes. It talked in terms of percentages – not the before deductions percentages different income groups pay but the actual percentage of real dollars paid to the government after all deductions and ‘loopholes’ as some call them, are factored in.

Here’s what the article summarized about the combined income tax paid to all levels of government in Canada:

“This progressivity can help us understand why the top 1% of income earners paid a staggering 21.2% of the total federal and provincial taxes in 2010. The top 10% paid 54.8% of all taxes while the bottom 50% of Canadian income earners contributed 4% towards the collective personal tax bill.”

In other words, the higher income tax brackets are not only paying their fair share, they’re paying more than their fair share when you get right down to it. The situation is similar in the United States where 47% of Americans, mostly lower and middle income families, pay no tax at all.

One would think that if you were going to discuss or debate the numbers that it might be prudent or even necessary to have a few facts handy to support your position. Apparently that kind of thinking is out of date. Here’s some of  the informed debate that flowed from that article.

“This article doesn’t really address what the top 1% ACTUALLY pay in taxes. Where did these estimates come from, or are they guesses based on general estimates?”

Actually, the article does specify where the data comes from. It comes from Statistics Canada among other sources. The numbers are real, inconvenient perhaps for the tax the rich crowd, but they are factual – not estimates. It also specifies the percentage of actual tax  paid, not the percentages before deductions; something this commenter clearly skipped over.

“Well, I never realized I was in the top 1% until I saw this figure. So I just discovered I’m a much reviled one percenter. I support a family in downtown Toronto, and I don’t feel very rich. . . I clearly spent over 50% of all my money in 2012 on taxes.

So I guess when people say that people in my income group don’t pay our fair share, I guess I’m not sure what they mean, considering a majority of my wealth already goes to the government.

This last comment elicited some sympathetic support from the next person.

“Exactly. It is obscene for the government to confiscate significantly over 50% of somebody’s income through all of its various types of tax.

“It really irritates me when the media give uncritical coverage to the likes of Obama and McGuinty talking about tax “fairness”. Most people get more from government than they contribute.

Everybody recognizes that the genuinely poor or disadvantaged will rely on government programs funded by other taxpayers.”

And then somewhat more quickly, the wheels started coming off the discussion.

“Don’t forget this is the national post with a mandate to ensure that you are outraged about taxes….”social_media_truth-300x238

It’s actually The National Post’s sister paper The Financial Post but let’s not quibble over semantics. They guy was kind of in the ballpark.

A mandate from whom? Post Media has a mandate from its shareholders to turn a profit not to rouse the villagers by creating dissension across the land regarding the tax act. But it gets better. In response to the comment that the disadvantaged get more government services than higher income brackets receive. . .

“Please tell me what I get? I’m part of most people. What do i get? The same roads you use? the same hospitals? the same first responders? the same military? the same access to programs you can use?

What do i get that you don’t get?”

He clearly doesn’t understand or perhaps has never heard of the concept of ‘claw back’ a uniquely innovative government strategy used for things like the universal mother’s allowance which claws back 100% of the benefit paid to higher income earners. And the war was on.

“That’s why most rich people who own the corporations and banks that benefit from all the government spending from bridges to the military get super rich selling planes that can’t fly for a hundred and fifty million dollars each and bridges that have 60,000$ of concrete cost 15 million just guessing the numbers but you should get the point. And the bank of Canada lending out money to the banks at a half percentage point handing out credit cards to the poor who pay 30% interest.

“yes for sure the rich are really taken advantage of.”

It was nice of this person to acknowledge that they were “just guessing at the numbers”. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t have the common sense ability to think that if the opinion was based on a guess just maybe the opinion might be on shaky ground.

This next person got right to the point. It was all about lowering ‘everyone’s‘ taxes based on  having the rich pay more. I can’t even begin to reconcile this thinking.

“Perhaps if those “rich” would simply pay the rate stated, without manipulating the system to chip away at their tax rate, the system would not be so starved for revenue, and everyone’s rate could come down a small amount.”

Everyone except the “rich’ of course. Perhaps the system wouldn’t be so poor if so many weren’t constantly demanding the government provide more free stuff. Just a thought.

And then the discussion  took a sudden left turn into a discussion about healthcare. Healthcare?

“For example, according to the Washington Post (citing research from the Urban Institute, I believe), a two income couple earning average incomes pays $114k in lifetime Medicare premiums, and can expect to receive $355k in benefits. Those numbers are inflation adjusted. In my world, $355k is “vastly more” than $114k.”

That comment generated this question.

“is it 355K of actual benefits, or is it really $35 K in benefits, inflated 10x by they system because it knows the tax payer will pay for it?”

Which then generated this comment.

“Typically the prices paid to health providers by Medicare are lower than the prices paid by (private) managed care. And the prices paid by Medicaid are lower still. So while there is of course waste and overpayment all over the system, it’s not accurate to conclude that the government is charged particularly high prices.”

Which prompted:

“Canadian medicare is funded from operating funds although Ontarians also pay about $150 a month as a healthcare premium. Citizens struggle to get access even to their own billings and getting healthcare records is almost as hard as getting intelligent info.”

social-media-ageism-inbound-marketingAnyone still remember, we’re discussing taxation and whether or not the rich pay their fair share? One person did with this careful thought through tax plan.

“Give everyone 60,000.00 tax free then take 60% of everything else. Now thats a flat tax rate and everyone including the super rich get 60,000 tax free. Now would you believe thats fair?”

Followed by the ‘voice of reason’ from someone clearly not making this level of income.

“When you take a job for 200k/year, you employer knows you are paying 50% taxes. But they figure that will still leave you with a comfortable lifestyle and a reason to come to work each day.

Don’t get worked up and outraged.”

I wonder how he would feel if half of his income was being taken from government. One person did try in vain  to introduce a little common sense into the discussion.

“Freeze all tax changes. Trim the walrus fat that is being paid for by all tax payers. Then we’ll talk about going up or down on taxes.”

Which eventually was greeted by:

“It’s not how much you earn, but how much you save. If you earn a lot and spend it all…you’re an idiot. If you earn a lot and save a lot of it, then you get it. The purpose of earning more money is for the financial security it affords you…but this doesn’t work if you don’t save any of it. I save a lot of my money, yet live a decent life, and yet…I sleep great at night, and do feel somewhat rich.”

There’s nothing like a lecture to end a good, informed debate.

Actually, the debate continues but you get the picture.  I’m not trying to be harsh and some of the comments that were left actually didScreen_Shot_2012-06-04_at_2.25.03_PM_270x382 rise to a level of informed thought. Certainly I could have selected any one of a dozen more egregious examples from different newspapers and blogs but this one serves the point. Most of the comments were poorly thought through or opinion based on nothing more than opinion and that is the same kind of discussion that happens over every issue from defense procurement to healthcare, gun control to Israel Apartheid across social media every day.

It doesn’t happen on issues like abortion, of course, because unless you’re pro-choice, you’re not permitted to voice your opinion without a social media lynch mob or university campus bullies swarming you.

What passes for discussion and debate these days is uninformed, unfocused, humourless and arrogant.

It’s small wonder we’re grinding to a halt intellectually and in terms of developing innovative strategies to deal with the issues we face – we approach virtually every issue far less encumbered by facts than we are with uninformed  opinion and an enthusiastic eagerness to argue the inane.

I had a guy debate photosynthesis with me the other day. In response to a comment I made in my article Pond Scum, he advised me that it was plankton, not vegetation that gives off more oxygen. Who bloody cares? It had nothing whatever to do with either the facts or the point of the article. Plankton wasn’t mentioned in the article which was about scientists discovering that common algae may be a significant solution to greenhouse gas emissions.

imagesWhether it’s some American getting hot and horny that the United States is a republic not a democracy (they’re both as it turns out just as we’re a constitutional monarchy and a democracy) or people finding significance in the fact that the actor who plays the devil in The Bible Tv series looks like Barack Obama, the points we argue about these days are absurd.

We have ADHD when it comes to trying to focus on what’s important and it is grinding our society to a halt.

God help the next generation. We’re leaving them one hell of a mess to clean up and if they’re learning how to do that from us – we’re denying them the intellectual ability to discuss how to achieve it. All we’re teaching them is how to run around in circles while making noise.

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© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
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  • http://www.facebook.com/barb.gulka Barb Gulka

    on your topic, Bear, about the ‘comment section’! that is the most entertaining of all! I do enjoy the topics and put my own thoughts to them, but wow…do I enjoy reading the comment sections! especially when your reading an argument between one that ‘seems’ intelligent and one that ‘seems’ unintelligent…and then they totally get off topic and start directing racists comments at each other. I think it is a form of therapy for some to unload their lifes discontent on others…just wish they could spell so I wouldn’t waste time trying to figure out what they are saying…..ah but I don’t & move…..on to the next …..will have to confess here tho…the comment section is part of my entertainment!

  • Pingback: A Bear’s Rant | Grumpy Opinions()

  • http://twitter.com/charlie981947 Chuck Keil

    you said, as if this was a given – In other words, the higher income tax brackets are not only paying their fair share, they’re paying more than their fair share when you get right down to it.Read more at http://abearsrant.com/2013/03/the-argument.html#T1SixIJ7BqtLzDWA.99

    there actually needs to be a discussion about what is their fair share. you might also want to discuss the role of government and how ever expanding government intrusion into what should be an individual’s role impacts the fair share. in a society where every perceived disadvantage is caused by “not me” and every solution requires government involvement the only thing that will happen is that fair share gets bigger, with the ultimate aim of making everyone, with the exception of the ruling elite, the same. democratic government, and the ponzi schemes it uses, such as OAS, will ultimately fail as the “disadvantaged” demand their “fair share” while being unable to contribute in a meaningful way to the betterment of society.

    • MaggiesBear

      You start with a premise that everyone has an obligation to contribute to society in a meaningful way. I would suggest that everyone has an obligation to provide for themselves and their families first and to contribute a fair share of their income to those common infrastructures and services society requires and that we all use.

      The only truly fair way to achieve that is to tax everyone at the same percentage of their income and to only allow government to spend money that provides equal service to all. The only exception to that would be those in true need and that help should not be such that it continues to keep them at a subsistence level but rather provides them the means to rise up out of poverty and dependence.

      Currently, it is fashionable to attack the wealthy who are identified as the 1%. In fact, if you took all of the income of not only the 1% but of the top 10% wage earners, it wouldn’t come close to addressing the debt load we currently have nor would it pay for all of the entitlements.people have demanded.

      How do you define fair share? Unions pay no tax on the dues they collect. Charities pay no tax on their operations or donations. Churches pay no tax and the middle class pays less currently than the top 10%.

      Our tax system is a mess and is not working. Simply pointing fingers at one group and deciding that they are the problem not only won’t fix what is broken, it is part of the problem that got us here.

      • http://twitter.com/charlie981947 Chuck Keil

        you said – I would suggest that everyone has an obligation to provide for themselves and their families first and to contribute a fair share of their income to those common infrastructures and services society requires and that we all use.
        I actually agree with you, my question is what are the common infrastructures and services and are they reasonable. For example, in the past, not sure about the present, seasonal workers in some provinces received advantages that others did not. maybe this was a scheme to get votes?

        In a democratic society where votes matter I would suggest that one way to provide for your family is to vote for the organization that offers you the most and since the poor will always outnumber the rich, 1%, 10%, they can use the ballot box to effectively rob everyone who is perceived to have more. I might also ask that if you are not contributing to society why should I contribute to you, why am I obligated while you are not (not you personally obviously, generic you)

        • MaggiesBear

          I agree with you except for the last part. There are some in our society, who for many reasons be it job loss, mental illness or coming from a bad family life that simply get caught in the poverty cycle. I have no issue with the development and implementation of programs to help people like this back to their feet. I do have an issue with paying them pitiful amounts of money every money in order to appear as if society is doing something to help them. It isn’t and we squander billions just for the appearance of helping.

          My post was actually about the inability of most people to discuss an issue civily and with some thought. Somewhat like you and I are doing. It isn’t necessary to agree, it is necessary to base the discussion on some facts and knowledge beyond the last tweet somebody read.

          But on the issue of taxation, I think there is a pressing need to clean up political parties, to take the waste out of government and to rationalize just exactly what government should be doing and what we should reasonably expect from it. When we accomplish that, I think we can take a look at who pays what in terms of taxes.

          If we keep going the way we are, I have no dobut that government will give some thought to perhaps helping themselves to some of our savings as they are doing in Cyrpus, just to bail themselves out.

  • user1014 Just Me

    Excellent piece, well done. It does point to how silly some comments are and how little some readers understand. It also points out how people completely disregard the truth simply because they don’t like it.