Tax the Knickers Off Your Grandchildren

How the dismal science applies to your life.
March 7 1997 3:30 AM

Tax the Knickers Off Your Grandchildren

If income redistribution is such a good idea, let's make those rich future generations pay.

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If you are worried about that story, it means one of two things. Either 1) you believe that your neighbor has no right to live well at your grandchildren's expense or 2) you believe that your neighbor has that right, but you'd prefer to prevent him from exercising it. In Case 2, I assume you have sufficiently little interest in moral niceties that you wouldn't be reading a column like this one in the first place. That leaves Case 1. But if you believe that your neighbor has no right to live well at the expense of your fabulously wealthy grandchildren, you must also believe that your neighbor has no right to live well at the expense of Bill Gates. In other words, if you're unhappy about the national debt, you should be doubly unhappy about the progressive income tax.

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The popular philosophy of income redistribution requires us to transfer income from the few high earners of today, while the popular philosophies of conservation and "fiscal responsibility" require us to transfer income to the many high earners of tomorrow. Those who embrace all these philosophies at once--Bill Clinton comes to mind--have about them at least a mild air of intellectual schizophrenia.

(For a more technical analysis of what we owe to future generations, click.)

Steven E. Landsburg, author of The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life, is a professor of economics at the University of Rochester. You can e-mail him at armchair@troi.cc.rochester.edu.

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