Reihan Salam Wants To Pay Higher Taxes

… along with all other childless adults, in order to subsidize parents:

I often reflect on the sacrifices working parents make to better the lives of their children. And I have come to the reluctant conclusion that I ought to pay much higher taxes so that working parents can pay much lower taxes. I believe this even though I also believe a not inconsiderable share of my tax dollars are essentially being set on fire by our frighteningly incompetent government. Leviathan is here to stay, whether I like it or not, and someone has to pay for it. That someone should be me, and people like me.

Who should pay more? Nonparents who earn more than the median household income, just a shade above $51,000. By shifting the tax burden from parents to nonparents, we will help give America’s children a better start in life, and we will help correct a simple injustice. We all benefit from the work of parents. Each new generation reinvigorates our society with its youthful vim and vigor. As my childless friends and I grow crankier and more decrepit, a steady stream of barely postpubescent brainiacs writes catchy tunes and invents breakthrough technologies that keep us entertained and make us more productive.

Matthew Klein mulls Reihan’s proposal:

The advantage of a tax credit is that it could be claimed by the poor. Children who grow up in poverty tend to suffer from malnutrition and elevated stress hormones that permanently impair brain development, so money that makes it easier for low-income parents to provide a decent life for their children would make a lot of sense. The danger, however, is that some people would have more children than they could support just to claim the government benefits. Their children would be the real victims and may end up permanently dependent on support from the state for the rest of their lives. That wouldn’t exactly solve the problem of freeloaders.

laine Maag argues that the childless also deserve a break:

The Tax Policy Center estimates that in 2013, the tax system delivered $171 billion in child-related benefits through five provisions: the earned income tax credit (E.I.T.C.), the child tax credit (C.T.C.), dependent exemptions, head of household filing status, and the child and dependent care tax credit. The E.I.T.C. and C.T.C. tilt these benefits toward low-income families. Together, they lifted 10.1 million people out of poverty in 2012. But because they focus on families with children, the two credits do almost nothing for childless households. That group gets none of the benefit from the C.T.C. andjust 3 percent of the E.I.T.C.

So it is not at all clear that more spending for children (particularly higher-income children) would be the best use of our limited tax dollars. It makes more sense to give all workers a substantial work incentive.

John Seager chips in 2¢:

We should refrain from punishing or rewarding personal decisions about the size and shape of our families. Perhaps the vital individual right is the right to be let alone. If the decision to have or not have children isn’t private, then nothing is private.

Update from a reader:

Huh? Isn’t Salam’s proposal in effect what the EITC already does, with some means testing thrown in ? And it has means testing on both sides – for the EITC itself on the payout side, and from the progressive tax code on the payer side. Why should I (a childless adult) pay at a higher tax rate than someone with much more money who happens to have children? Who would be in charge of figuring what was equitable between this couple and that one?

Then, will we have to examine the reasons and motives of anyone who is childless and make exceptions accordingly? I can just imagine that little bureaucracy. I would be expecting the lawsuits saying, “I shouldn’t be in the childless category because I wasn’t biologically able to have children, or because I am unsuited to be a parent for these reasons, or because we are gay and don’t want to adopt”. It would go on forever.