With Tax Day nearly upon us–and a couple months removed from a significant tax overhaul in this country–I am reminded of the fascinating book I read at the start of this year: Arnold Kling’s “Three Language of Politics”. The book describes three schools of thought that Kling believes dominates our politics and culture. Roughly, these three lens fall along the lines of conservative, progressive, and libertarian thinking.
I wrote about Kling’s thinking here and it’s definitely a short book worth checking out.
Early in the book, Kling addresses a host of popular and/or controversial political issues and attempts to explain how each of the three sociopolitical groups sees them. Here’s how he believes conservatives, progressives, and libertarians view tax reform.
Goals of tax reform
For a conservative along the civilization-barbarism axis, the main priority of tax reform should be to promote traditional values. The tax code should reward hard work, thrift, and married couples with children. Traditional families, hard work, and thrift are elements of civilization. If taxation penalizes civilized behavior and undermines civilized values, then this fosters an eventual return to barbarism.
For a progressive along the oppressor-oppressed axis, the main priority of tax reform should be to reduce inequality. The tax code should extract unwarranted wealth from the rich to provide more public services and assistance to the poor.
For a libertarian along the liberty-coercion axis, the main priority of tax reform should be to limit the size of government. Taxes ought to be minimal. The freedom to dispose of your own wealth as you wish is liberty. Taxes are obtained by coercion.