Friday, March 18, 2005

There's comedy, there's high comedy, and then there's Jay Jardine's tax return

(Update: I missed the real mark on a couple of points below, and demonstrated, once again, my need of a good Argument Construction school. More to follow.)

Colour me genuinely surprised - Jay Jardine is on the wrong side of a moral issue.

At the risk of making him physically iller and provoking another enjoyably profane screed, Joe Wood's regrettable situation and the fundamental morality of income taxes are two separate issues. If he's not willing to stipulate the latter, at least for the sake of argument, then I don't know why he would take any special interest in the former.

Show me someone who is defaulting on their mortgage, and there's a 99%+ chance that they paid income tax at some time in the past. If they still had that money they previously remitted in income tax, they would be able to hold onto their house longer, or maybe even pay it off. You may agree or disagree with Jay that this person deserves sympathy, and has a beef with the government. But this person is no less deserving of sympathy than Joe Wood.

I will take Jay's advice, though, and check my premises. Here they are:
1) We have laws that require us to pay income tax
2) I want these laws to be as equitable as possible across all income brackets

Shannon has a very sensible idea (and maybe this is what Steve Maich is proposing): if you want to ensure that stock compensation is taxed based on its value when converted to cash (and ensure that there are no Joe Woods in the future), then eliminate the RRSP limit(*). It treats the person who receives stock as compensation the same way as someone compensated in cash who then buys the same amount of stock. It's accessible to everyone, CPA or no CPA.

It also makes the consequences of the change completely foreseeable; that is, anyone who's not living paycheque-to-paycheque gains total control over when their income is realized and when they pay the corresponding taxes. I frankly can't say if this is good or bad in the long run, but that's what it would be. Steve Maich says essentially that he doesn't see how this change might disproportionately benefit "rich people"; he seems like a smart guy, but on this count, I'll say that his imagination might be lacking.

Whatever mechanism you would change to right this alleged wrong (with the exception of the PM forgiving Mr. Wood's tax bill), it would be occasionally relevant to a middle-class fellow like Joe Wood(**), but in general would have a greater relevance to you the wealthier you are.

SD asked: Is Steve Maich a Socialist? My question would be: Is Steve Maich a Shill For The Rich and Well-Paid? And Jardine can bitch all he wants about income taxes, but for the life of me, I don't know why he'd want to change the system to afford flexibility and deferral options to the wealthy that would not be available to the lower & middle classes.

I'll finish by stating plainly that I have no real idea if all of the above is "conservative". I think a simpler, more equitable tax code is roughly consistent with the stated goals of most political parties of the right, but I make no assurances, nor do I care.


Footnote(*): Any other tax code change to deal with this "problem" would be even worse. If I get paid a bunch of U.S. dollars, should I get taxed on it when I receive it, or when I convert it to CAN$? What if I was paid in pesos, or rupees? Some foreign currencies can be pretty volatile - should I be protected in the event that I don't immediately convert to Canadian when paid? And I assume we can all dismiss out of hand any unique tax treatment for shares in your own company.

Footnote (**): It should also be noted that regarding unanswered questions on Joe Wood's situation - like why wasn't tax withheld, and is every other JDS employee in this same bind, and others - every present assumption gives Mr. Wood the maximum benefit of the doubt. I love a good victim story as much as the next guy, but is it really so obvious that Mr. Wood acted with the best, most honest intentions at all times? He may well have, but it shouldn't be treated as a given.


At 9:17 AM, Blogger Jay said...

I'm tellin' ya, if Space Aliens came down and imposed a government on us that required the eating of human babies instead of taxes, the conservatives would be mulling over options to make the baby feeding as "equitable and fair" as possible across all income groups, and possibly look at ways to reduce the govt's annual baby appetite to a more "sustainable" level.

Only the "wild-eyed libertarian nutbars" would be waving their hands saying "this whole baby eating deal is morally wrong and needs to stop RIGHT NOW!"

At 10:19 AM, Blogger Shannon said...

Jay, you forgot to put scare quotes around the word "conservatives" there.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Jay said...

But what exactly are the "conservatives" trying to "conserve", Shannon?

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Shannon said...

Good question. But since I've never claimed to be a "conservative", I don't think I can answer that.

Not that I would expect everyone who claims to be a conservative to be able to provide a coherent answer either. And a lot of them probably aren't "conservatives" according to the traditional definition, so if that's your point, I suppose you're right. (And I suppose it becomes a bit confusing to figure out what "conservative" really means when the status quo leans heavily toward socialism.)

But even traditional conservatism (or classical liberalism for that matter), so far as I'm aware, doesn't call for the complete abolition of goverment and/or the complete elimination of taxes (unlike, I suppose, true libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism or whatever). And I don't think it's just a question of reducing taxes to a "sustainable" level (scare quotes totally justified on that one), but for what purposes they are acceptable (e.g., defence, law enforcement).

If you think taxes for any purpose are fundamentally immoral, fine. I just think it's a bit silly to imply conservatives who don't agree with that assessment aren't real conservatives (if that's what you meant...maybe I misinterpreted your use of quotation marks there).

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Jay said...

Shannon, I don't intend to start some Leninist libertarian purity purge here. I realize that my personal view on the morality of taxation will be shared by maybe 0.0000000001% of the population on a good day.

Let's set Mr. Wood aside for now, as quite clearly I've staken the wrong hill on which to make my point. The reason I snark at conservatives is that I see no clear articulation of how they intend to separate themselves from their political adversaries (other than the usual muttering about marriage/abortion/sex offenders). Think about it: most NDPers and left-liberals will tell you straight to your face that your stuff belongs to *society* and we all get to vote on how to divvy up the loot.
Conservatives supposedly want less of this sort of thing, but when you get right down to it they don't question the root premise underlying taxation (a majority gets to decide how to dispose of a portion of your property). Thats all well and good if you want to take that route, but IMHO it makes it much more difficult to construct a principled argument against lefties and socialists of all stripes. The question then becomes what team gets to control the loot and Who gets to ram What down the other's throat. The conservatives want to force the liberals to fund military stuff, while the liberals want to force the conservatives to fund daycare. Its a decidedly uncivil undertaking (even less civil than some of my postings) as evidenced by recent election campaigns here and in the US.

[Matt: sorry for clogging up the comments here, I realize this probably should have been a post unto itself]

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Comment anytime, Jay, especially if they're going to be as good as that one.


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