Monday, March 21, 2005

2nd Verse, same as the 1st

You, me, The Monger, or Jay Jardine are perfectly welcome to argue that a law is fundamentally immoral. Maybe it deprives you of your right to life or property, maybe it restricts your liberty to act in a way that is not harmful to anyone else, pick any or all.

You are also welcome to argue that the spurious or uneven application of an immoral law is further evidence of its immorality. The flip side of this, though, is that you can't use an example of the even application of an immoral law as special evidence of its immorality. And Jay and The Monger are trying to have it both ways.

Our income tax code is set up so that all compensation for employment is taxed in the same way. If we are to have income tax at all, this is a good thing.

Joe Wood is not the poster boy for the immorality of income tax. He is the poster boy for "Paul Martin is a bullshitter". He's also the poster boy for "Advisory: All compensation for employment is treated equally under income tax laws", or to put it in a more statist way, "TANSTAAFL".

The Monger posted a nice letter to the contrary from "LionSteak", starting with this neat summation:
" my grocery store, the register doesn't have slots for 10's, 20's and stock certificates. Because my supermarket won't accept stocks as payment for a loaf of bread."

Kevin Jaeger emerged from deep in his secure network environment to rejoin (in The Monger's new Comments!):
The cash registers at my local stores don't have slots for expensive cars, yachts, condos at Tremblant, vacation homes in Cote D'Azur or bearer bonds deposited in Swiss bank accounts either. But if a company gives any of these things to their employees or management as compensation they are defined as taxable benefits and their approximate market value is taxed as income.

It is a national sport for the management of Canada's public companies to find creative ways to give themselves the lavish lifestyle they deserve while avoiding any tax. Personally I'd be happy to take my next bonus as a new Porsche and only declare $150 income twenty years from now when I drop it off at the wrecker. Or they could buy me a house, or, perhaps, give me shares in a numbered company whose sole business is "real estate development" - that is, building my house. Or perhaps payment in gold futures will do. I'll take my chances with fluctuating gold prices rather than the certain 50% cut of the tax man.

All of these things have been used in the past, which is why the tax law is what it is today. You can pay an employee in anything you want, it just gets taxed at its market value as if you gave him cash and he bought it himself.

Too-shay. If you want to complain about the immorality of income taxes, make over-the-top analogies about baby-eating, and insult the bunch of people who are generally most sympathetic to this point of view, go ahead - but SHUT THE HELL UP ABOUT JOE WOOD. If you're looking for a "Having to pay Canadian income tax bill contributes to financial strain" story, there are quite literally millions of better candidates.


At 12:21 p.m., Blogger Shannon said...

What, you don't think taxes are basically the same as baby-eating? Commie!

At 3:28 p.m., Blogger Sean McCormick said...

Babies taste better than tax forms. Um, er, so I'm told, anyhow. *cough*

At 10:18 a.m., Blogger Paul said...

"Our income tax code is set up so that all compensation for employment is taxed in the same way. If we are to have income tax at all, this is a good thing."

Sorry, this is demonstrably false. The simplest relevant counterexample is that some specific employment compensation is provided either primarily or entirely as shares of stock in the employer, with very different tax treatment.

As for Kevin's auto argument, I'd be curious what he (or, having adopted it, you) feel is the potential utility of having a legal interest in some stock, versus the potential utility of driving a car for several years. If you choose to claim the discard value of the car you would also have chosen to claim the utility value received each year (which would include depreciation).

But you aren't interested in claiming the utility value of the cash you receive, are you?

A mature understanding of taxation recognizes that no system is complete, nor is it "fair" to all definitions of that word. Even "income" versus "consumption" taxes reflect this same discussion: you can be taxed when you receive the cash, or when you dispose of it, based on the value of that cash at the relevant point in time.

At 11:04 a.m., Blogger Matt said...

paul, I guess your simplest relevant counterexample isn't simple enough for me, or at least clear enough.

If you are awarded stock as compensation, the fair market value of that stock is counted as income. Likewise, here's the CRA instruction for counting stock options:

"On line 101, enter the amounts shown in box 14 of all your T4 slips. The taxable benefit that you received because you exercised certain options is already included in box 14 of your T4 slip."

You can choose to defer paying this tax until you sell them, but that in no way affects the $value of your tax liability.

I'm listening - please explain the very different tax treatment of stock received as compensation. Further, I will reiterate that this is the fairest way to apply income tax. If you disagree, you are welcome to make that argument. I make no assertions that income tax is the fairest kind of tax, nor did I in this post.


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