The GEM Debate:
Should We Tax The Childless?
I just discovered this article in Slate where the writer, Reihan Salam, suggests that we should slash taxes on parents by increasing them for nonparents. Salam is childless himself and believes that nonparents who earn more than the median household income—a little over $51,000—should have the tax burden shifted to them to correct a simple injustice.
As Salam says: “We all benefit from the work of parents. Each new generation reinvigorates our society with its youthful vim and vigor. As my childless friends and I grow crankier and more decrepit, a steady stream of barely postpubescent brainiacs writes catchy tunes and invents breakthrough technologies that keep us entertained and make us more productive. The willingness of parents to bear and nurture children saves us from becoming an economically moribund nation of hateful curmudgeons. The least we can do is offer them a bigger tax break.”
To support his idea, Salam points out that the deck is stacked against parents in all kinds of ways. Raising a child born in 2012 will cost a middle-income family a cumulative total of $301,970 over 18 years—and could actually cost more. Parents suffer every time they have to stay home and take care of a sick child, either from loss of income or loss of opportunity. Nonparents have a leg up at work and have more disposable income, which they can use to become wealthier and live a more lavish lifestyle than the average family.
As a parent of four children, this sounds good. Really good. But, I don’t agree with Salam’s position. For one thing, becoming a parent is a choice. Obviously, human life would degenerate until its eventual extinction if we all decided that we’re not going to have kids. Most of the world will be fruitful and multiply, as we should for the preservation of the species, but parenthood is still a choice. This article, though well thought out, doesn’t address why middle class and poor families are feeling so much financial pressure in the first place.
If Salam really wants families to pay lower taxes, we can start with cutting waste in what he refers to as the “frighteningly incompetent government.” Then, we can move on to addressing corporate welfare, which costs Americans far more than social welfare. After that, let’s discuss college costs, student loans, health care, insurance of all kinds, and expensive child care (in some states, the cost of child care rivals the cost of college). I suspect that if we address the first two of my suggestions, the rest might take care of itself.
There is another aspect of Salam’s suggestion that I find abhorrent. What about couples who can’t have children? How about the ones who are having a hard time adopting? The ultimate slap in the face would be to carry a heavier tax burden because you can’t have children despite the fact that you want to.
I say it’s better to solve problems by actually addressing the causes of them rather than the symptoms. This sort of tax policy only changes WHO gets jerked around by taxes rather than WHY we are all jerked around in the first place.
But what do you say? Should the childless pay more? Share your thoughts below.