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2. The Total Tax
The idea of social justice implied in the ability-to-pay principle is that of perfect financial equality of all citizens. As long as any [p. 739] inequality of income and wealth remains it can as plausibly be argued that these larger incomes and fortunes, however small their absolute amount, indicate some excess of ability to be levied upon, as it can be argued that any existing inequalities of income and wealth indicate differences in ability. The only logical stopping place of the ability-to-pay doctrine is at the complete equalization of incomes and wealth by confiscation of all incomes and fortunes above the lowest amount in the hands of anyone.1
The notion of the total tax is the antithesis of the notion of the neutral tax. The total tax completely taxes away--confiscates--all incomes and estates. Then the government, out of the community chest thus filled, gives to everybody an allowance for defraying the costs of his sustenance. Or, what comes to the same thing, the government in taxing leaves free that amount which it considers everybody's fair share and completes the shares of those who have less up to the amount of their fair share.
The idea of the total tax cannot be thought out to its ultimate logical consequences. If the entrepreneurs and capitalists do not derive any personal benefit or damage from their utilization of the means of production, they become indifferent with regard to the choice between various modes of conduct. Their social function fades away, and they become disinterested irresponsible administrators of public property. They are no longer bound to adjust production to the wishes of the consumers. If only the income is taxed away while the capital stock itself is left free, an incentive is offered to the owners to consume parts of their and thus to hurt the interests of everyone. A total income tax would be a very inept means for the transformation of capitalism into socialism. If the total tax affects wealth no less than income, it is no longer a tax, i.e., a device for collecting government revenue within a market economy. It becomes a measure for the transition to socialism. As soon as it is consummated, socialism has been substituted for capitalism.
Even when looked upon as a method for the realization of socialism, the total tax is disputable. Some socialists launched plans for a prosocialist tax reform. They recommended either a 100 per cent estate and gift tax or taxing away totally the rent of land or all unearned income--i.e., in the socialist terminology, all revenue not derived from manual labor performed. The examination of these projects is superfluous. It is enough to know that they are utterly incompatible with the preservation of the market economy. [p. 740]
- 1. Cf. Harley Lutz, Guideposts to a Free Economy (New York, 1945). p. 76.