Forget the rich, tax the childless

  • 3 April 2014
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Babies in a German nursery.

Conservative commentator Reihan Salam thinks that the deck is stacked against parents in the US. He cites a government study that a child costs a middle income family more than $300,000 (£181,000) over 18 years - not including college tuition and "foregone earnings and career opportunities" for the parents.

"While nonparents can focus on their jobs in laserlike fashion, parents are rarely in a position to do the same," he writes in Slate. "Every time a sick child keeps a parent home from work, her earnings suffer, either directly, because she's taking an unpaid leave of absence, or indirectly, because she's missing out on opportunities to climb the corporate ladder."

And so Salam has a plan to encourage parenthood and ensure stable families: greatly expand the per-child income tax credit and make it available to all income levels.

As a good conservative, however, he is loath to increase the federal budget deficit. His solution is raise taxes on everyone earning more than $51,000 (£30,700) a year. Parents would still wind up owing less to the government, but childless singles and couples would take a hit.

Salam builds on a proposal by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, which creates a new $2,500 (£1,500) per child credit (a direct dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes owed) but doesn't address the resulting $2.4t (£1.45t) price tag. Cutting government spending is unrealistic, Salam says, leaving higher taxes as the only alternative.

Yes, he concedes, his plan would infuriate millions of nonparents.

"But does this mean those of us who favour a more parent-friendly tax code should give up?" he asks. "Not quite. Tax reform along these lines could awaken a sleeping giant in American politics, namely the 36% of American voters who have a child under 18 in their household."

If parents "flex their muscle", he concludes, "we might have a revolution on our hands" - one that he would welcome.

The Los Angeles Post-Examiner's Carl Woodward isn't buying it.

"Salam frames his argument as provocatively as possible for a reason," he writes. "For the 1 percent and their Republican apologists, it's the oldest trick in the book: turn the working classes against each other while quietly sucking them dry."

He continues:

When Salem speculates that "we might have a revolution on our hands," the last thing he has in mind is an actual revolution: he's fantasizing a new culture war between nonparents, who he describes as "political enemies," and parents, who he thinks of as "a sleeping giant."

Hotair's Allahpundit is surprised that conservatives haven't rushed to embraced the proposal.

"If we're doomed to run deficits until a debt crisis brings about a reckoning, who should bear the burden of extra taxes in the meantime in the name of reducing that deficit as much as possible?" he asks.

Salam's goal is noble, he concludes:

He wants parents to coalesce as a voting bloc the same way seniors have. Lower taxes for families is the potential catalyst to raising their political consciousness. Once you've got parents voting as parents rather than as Democrats/Republicans, whites/blacks/Latinos, urbanites/suburbanites, etc, all sorts of policy consequences potentially flow from that, and all of them have to do with making American law more family-friendly.

Demos's Matt Bruenig thinks that by tinkering with tax credits and rates, Salam makes the whole thing too complicated. Why not just cut parents a monthly check for every child, like they do in France?

"On the merits, there is no reason to prefer weird tax code mangling over the child allowance," Bruenig writes. "Both policies aim at the exact same goals, but child allowances are way better at achieving them."

"The only reason conservatives like Salam and Lee opt for the inferior tax code approach is because it sufficiently obscures the welfare program they are clumsily putting together."

He concludes that "this kind of policy inefficiency is the price conservatives are willing to pay for the psychic good-feels that come from successfully submerging a welfare program so as to limit people's comprehension of it as such."

People should have the right to be left alone, writes Population Connection's John Seager on the New York Times's website.

"We should refrain from punishing or rewarding personal decisions about the size and shape of our families," he says. "If the decision to have or not have children isn't private, then nothing is private."

Salam's proposal has found a fan in Australia, where the News's Wendy Tuohy writes that implementing such a system in her country "would recognise the vital job families are doing by rearing new Australians who will care for, and pay for, many of us into our old age."

"Are we family-friendly enough to ask those who go without the burden of having children to pay more to help the ones who do?" she asks. "Or do we still consider that in Australia it's every, man, woman and their children - and every double-income no kids unit - for themselves?"

Hillary Clinton famously noted that it takes a village to raise a child. According to Salam, it's time for that village to pony up some more cash.