This basic story has been around in various forms for some time. However, since taxes, tax cuts, and the future of the IRS are a hot topic right now, I thought I would share my version of it so you could get a real-world example of how the U.S. tax system and our tax policy currently works.
Suppose every week, a group of old friends get together and the ten of them go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. Most of them are pretty progressive, so like our taxes, it was thought fair by the groups majority that the richer you were, the more you should contribute towards the meal? After all, thats the progressive way, isnt it? As a result, after some quick calculations, the share each paid for the meal turned out something like this:
1. The first four (who were the poorest) – paid nothing.
2. The fifth – $1.00
3. The sixth – $3.00
4. The seventh – $7.00
5. The eighth – $12.00
6. The ninth – $18.00
7. The tenth person (who was also the richest) – $59.00
The group ate together once a week for several months. The restaurant owner, being a good businessman and wanting to keep the group coming to his restaurant, one week said to them, Since you are all such good customers, Im going to reduce the cost of your meal by $20 every time you come in. Dinner for the ten of you will now only cost $80.
The group of friends did a quick calculation and realised that $20 divided by 10 is $2.00. However, it was quickly seen that if they subtracted that amount from everybodys share, then the first four would be paid $2.00 and the fifth would be paid $1.00, just to eat their meal. That wouldnt do, so to be fair, the 10 friends decided to share the good customer windfall using the same formulae that was used to calculate their taxes. After a little basic math, this is how the new apportionment went:
1.The first four still eat for free. (Hey, how much more can you save when its already free?)
2. The fifth, also ate for free. (100% savings and one more added to the growing list of special friends who felt entitled. That happens after a few months of free meals.)
3. The sixth now paid $2.20 instead of $3. (He got a 33% savings which made him very happy.)
4. The seventh now paid $5.20 instead of $7 (28% savings).
5. The eighth now paid $9.20 instead of $12 (25% savings).
6. The ninth now paid $14.20 instead of $18 (22% savings).
7. The tenth now paid $49.20 instead of $59 (16% savings).
Now, five of the group of friends were eating for free and the remaining diners were all better off than when they started the weekly dining. Towards the end of their meal, their waiter, who was hoping to get on their good side and get a better tip the next time they came to eat, suggested that maybe some of the group wasnt getting what they deserved from the unexpected discount.
As a result, once the group of friends got outside of the restaurant, they began talking and comparing their savings. Wait a minute, declared the sixth diner, I only got 80 cents out of that $20. Then he pointed to the tenth diner Didnt you get $9.80? Hey, exclaimed the fifth diner, now that I think of it, I only saved a dollar! . Thats true!! shouted the seventh diner, Why should the richest person get $9.20 back when I only got $1.80? This proves that the wealthy get all the breaks! Then, a very loud Wait a minute! came from the first four diners. Dont you realize that we didnt get anything at all. Thats cant be fair. The richest person in our group got almost all of the savings that the restaurant owner offered us. This just goes to show that given a chance the poorest members always get the raw end of the deal!
Suddenly, eight of the nine diners surrounded the tenth diner and beat him up, taking back his $9.80 in savings. The ninth diner didnt know what to think.
Well, the next week the tenth diner didnt show up for dinner. So, the nine remaining diners sat down and ate their meal without him. However, when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important that had slipped their notice. After looking at the cost of the meal, which hadnt changed from the previous week, they realized that by using their accustomed method of dividing up the bill they couldnt collect enough money between the remaining nine to pay for even half of the meal! So, the eight ganged up on the ninth diner, since he was now the richest and said, Youre the richest, so you have to make up the difference.
Because it was too late to do anything about it, and because he didnt want to start another argument that might get him beat up, the ninth diner paid the remainder of the bill. As he was walking to his car he shouted back to the rest, Im out of here. Next week you can take care of the bill yourself.
The remaining eight were dumbfounded and didnt know what to do, since the two former friends who had previously paid 78% of the bill were now gone and the remaining eight could no longer afford to eat at the restaurant. Reluctantly they returned and told the owner they wouldnt be back. As they turned to leave they began to discuss what they should do, and as a group they realized that they werent sure where they could afford to eat next week. On the way out of the restaurant for the last time, one of them muttered, Where did we go wrong? We only wanted our rich friends to pay their fair share.