It’s a default statement that is never questioned, but what does it actually mean? After all, the top 0.5% of earners in Ireland in 2009 paid 18% of all income tax. In 2010, the top 5% paid 44% of income tax. How is that unfair? When you talk to people about it, the argument goes a funny way, because it emerges, in my experience, that the argument is not about what a fair share actually is, but about the fact that the rich are somehow rich through some form of trickery, and that admitting that hard work creates wealth is curiously un-Irish. But let’s be honest: there’s also the simple fact that it is not regarded as socially unacceptable in Ireland to be just plain openly jealous about other people being rich. When Richard Boyd Barrett speaks about the rich, he speaks about them as if they deserve to be punished, in short, for being rich and therefore wicked.
There is an argument that the rich should pay a higher proportion of their income because they have “spare money”. The problem with that is that “spare money” is a subjective idea. If Dennis O’Brien’s wealth plummets to €2-3 million, he no longer feels he’s rich, or has “spare money”. What about an unemployed guy living next to a civil servant who has just bought a 2011 Ford Focus? In his eyes, his neighbour is loaded, and should pay extra tax. After all, he can afford a brand new Ford Focus. Yet to a returned immigrant living in a bedsit, looking at his unemployed neighbour who has a house, he’s thinking how he would love to have the house the unemployed guy has. In short, to be as rich as him.
What we really mean when we talk about fairness is “Leave my money alone. Take that guy’s money instead!” If we are to really talk about fairness, let’s talk about what we really mean. Of course we should have a progressive tax system, and of course those of us who earn more than others should pay higher tax, but where does fairness end? I reckon it’s about 40% of gross income. After that, people, regardless of how wealthy they are, start to get antsy for the simple reason that they see a large chunk of their effort taken off them. It’s then compounded by the fact that those taxes are, in the eyes of many Irish people, misspent. Yet Richard Boyd Barrett wants those people to be the villains of the piece. For working?
The curious thing is that if the top 5% did leave, our income tax receipts would drop by 44%, forcing us to slash spending on the poorest in our society. What’s the hard left’s answer to that?