President Obama announced this month that his administration plans to close many of the “corporate loopholes” that enable companies to refrain from adding taxes to the government coffers.
One of the most significant of these “loopholes” is the ability of U.S. companies to indefinitely defer payment on taxes for revenues earned overseas. One Democratic talking head after another repeatedly used the word fairness in detailing why the government would risk making U.S. companies less competitive in a global marketplace by taxing revenues made outside of the United States. Julie Roginsky, a Democratic strategist, said the following on CNBC:
This isn’t a tax issue; this is a fairness issue. … There are people who are billionaires who are taking their money and putting it in tax free offshore accounts, and do you think that’s fair?
Roginsky asked Republican strategist Jack Burkman: “Do you think it’s fair to you and me who have to pay these taxes?” Each time a CNBC commentator asked if the White House is at all concerned about companies and wealthy individuals leaving the U.S. for places where their tax burden will remain low, Roginsky came back at them with the unfairness of current tax law.
This concept of fairness is pervasive in the Obama administration. Obama himself made that clear while still on the campaign trail. Charles Krauthammer pointed out in an April column that when “asked by Charlie Gibson during a campaign debate about his support for raising capital gains taxes — even if they caused a net revenue loss to the government — Obama stuck to the tax hike ‘for purposes of fairness.'”
Fairness is a concept at the heart of Barack Obama’s political philosophy. That philosophy, and his adherence to it, is undoubtedly one of the things that make him such a man of the people to his supporters.
The trouble with fairness is that it doesn’t exist.
According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, the general word fair “implies the treating of both or all sides alike, without reference to one’s own feelings or interests.” But in politics, all sides can’t be treated alike. Giving to one person or group requires either denying something to — or directly taking from — another.
For example, the administration’s attempt to save Chrysler without a bankruptcy filing required forcing bondholders to accept 29 cents on the dollar for what they’re owed, in order for members of the United Auto Workers to get upwards of 50 cents on the dollar for what they’re owed. Giving the bondholders, who President Obama referred to as “speculators,” something significantly closer to what they would legally be due in a bankruptcy proceeding would give the union workers significantly less. Despite well-established bankruptcy and creditor laws, the bondholders are being shafted simply because the politicians don’t like them as much as union workers.
Clearly, this president, who espouses an ideological adherence to “fairness” as he sees it, referenced his feelings and interests when determining how the Chrysler pie should be divided. His decision was incredibly fair to the union workers that supported his campaign, but it certainly wasn’t fair to the so-called speculators.
The same could be said about the proposed return to the tax rates of the Clinton administration for those making more than $250,000 a year while giving a “tax cut” to 95 percent of Americans, 40 percent of whom don’t pay federal income tax at all. That choice is wonderfully fair to the non-taxpayers; but it’s doubtful that all top percentile taxpayers would consider it so. Any government decision on who gets how many taxpayer dollars necessitates that there be citizens on the other side of the equation giving more of their money to the federal government (or losing a benefit they once had).
In the zero sum game of politics, some person, party, or interest group must win and others must lose, and the one losing is never going to consider the loss fair. When the president mentions the word, he is not intending to treat all sides alike, and he is most definitely referencing his own feelings and interests. When he talks fairness, what he actually means is that he’s trying to give more to the people that he thinks deserve it and take as much as he can from those he thinks have too much. That is the true heart of Barack Obama’s political philosophy, and it’s anything but fair.