With the discussions continuing to rage concerning budget reductions and the correct policy of taxation in the US, the issue of fairness within a democracy is coming under an increasing focus. It is something that is entirely subjective to each individual and their own circumstances, and yet is often cited as reasoning when debates ensue about democratic policy and government rule. The issue of subjectivity is something that is difficult to incorporate when attempting to enforce a policy or law within a democracy, and can lead to complication in terms of the decision making process.
Taxation is a case in point, especially in the light of the suggestion that the US government will increase the tax liability of the rich in order to relieve the burden on lower income individuals and households. Backed by Barack Obama, it has instantly won the approval of an estimated 72 percent of the US society, who are in favor of focusing on the top two percent of earners in the country to reduce the vast national deficit. This is where the issue of fairness becomes important, and influences the thinking of voters and government officials alike.
The Processes of a Democracy
Democracy affords each individual member of a society a voice and opinion on any prevalent social issue, which can influence a government in imposing legislation and policy. However, a government cannot satisfy the requirements of each independent voter, and so must therefore make a decision that best suits the opinions and interests of the vast majority of it citizens. This is a slight anomaly that can complicate the process of a democratic regime, as some individuals can unreasonably expect that a democratic government should cater their their specific wants and needs.
With issue of taxation, the statistics suggest that more than two thirds of US voters consider the increase of tax liability for high earners to be fair, and in a democracy this represents a large majority of the national population. The government could therefore proceed to implement and regulate the increased taxation on high earners with the knowledge that it is supported by its subjects, and at least satisfy part of the democratic requirement. The issues that remain are whether it is an entirely fair course of action, or whether it is in the best interests of society as a whole.
Fairness and Examples of Radical Thinking
Just because a policy is supported by a majority, it is not necessarily entirely fair or just. After all, the proposal of tax rises for households that earn more than $250,000 in a calender year would impact on just 2 percent of society, so instantly we can see that a minority demographic is being targeted by a specific policy. It is therefore a proposal that suits the remaining 98 percent of citizens and enables them to maintain or reduce their own levels of tax liability, and this fact goes a long way to explaining the high levels of support and appreciation for the proposed policy modification.
The policy then becomes fair in the subjective sense of the word, and does not necessarily reflect and entirely considered or even handed approach to taxation. Of course it may be argued that in an extreme financial circumstance such as the one that blights the US calls for decisive and swift action, where a course of action that is deemed the lesser of two or more evils is deemed as the best way forward towards prosperity. However, there remains the suggestion that unless the government raises taxes considerably for the high earners in the US, the net financial gain for the federal coffers will remain minimal (as opposed to the revenue that could be earned by a minuscule tax raise across the whole of society).
The issues of fairness and effectiveness also raise questions as to why governments are loathe to consider more radical notions of taxation that do not focus simply on wealth or poverty. For example, if taxation is implemented to collect contributions from working individuals to reinvest into different areas of the economy, then why should a tax rate not be applied to specific job types and industries? This would mean that occupations that demand their representatives to serve and protect the welfare of society (such as nurses, police officers and firemen) would secure a minimal tax liabilty, whereas high earners within the entertainment industry would have roles that were deemed as non essential and therefore be subject to higher levels of taxation.
A Task of Immense Difficulty
This type of radical solution would draw equal debate as to which jobs served the public in the most profound way, which would subsequently lead to similar subjective applications of fairness in regards to taxation and working contributions. It highlights the difficulty that the government have in attempting to find a solution that fulfils both the needs of the individual and those of society as a single consideration. Not only this, but the federal governments policy on taxation must also be conceived in the long term and remain effective in reducing the spiralling budget deficit over a significant period of time.
The truth remains that any policy on taxation is likely to create debate, resentment and negative response from at least one section of the social demographic. While targeting the earnings of the rich to ease the burden of the poor, the government may be accused of creating a divide between these two factions of society without actually reducing the budget deficit significantly. Similarly, implementing even a minimal increase in the tax liability for everyone will draw criticism from those who feel that it places even more pressure on low income families and force more households into poverty. While the best course of action remains unclear however, it is becoming increasingly obvious that fairness remains the concern of the individual rather than the whole of society.