Friday, March 13, 2015

Ain't no such thing.

I heard this on the radio years ago and wanted to post this story, but I did not recall the figures. I just saw it on the Conservative Tribune so I thought I would pass it along.

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men — the poorest — would pay nothing; the fifth would pay $1, the sixth would pay $3, the seventh $7, the eighth $12, the ninth $18, and the tenth man — the richest — would pay $59.

That’s what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement — until one day, the owner threw them a curve (in tax language a tax cut).
“Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20.” So now dinner for the ten only cost $80.00.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other six — the paying customers? How could they divvy up the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his “fair share?”

The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being PAID to eat their meal. So the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in $2, the seventh paid $5, the eighth paid $9, the ninth paid $12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of his earlier $59. Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free.

But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. 

“I only got a dollar out of the $20,” declared the sixth man who pointed to the tenth. “But he got $7!”

“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man, “I only saved a dollar, too … It’s unfair that he got seven times more than me!”

“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man, “why should he get $7 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison, “We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn’t show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered — a little late — what was very important. They were FIFTY-TWO DOLLARS short of paying the bill!

Imagine that!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college instructors, is how the tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table anymore.


  1. I'm glad you found the article again! It really brings our convoluted tax system into focus, doesn't it?

    My personal wish is to disband the IRS, institute a flat tax and keep on only those necessary to collect/verify said tax.

  2. I'm OK with "progressive" tax rates.

    Agree with flo about "abolish the IRS" - tainted and corrupt.

    The new tax code should not have a revenue limit, it should have a word limit.

    Maybe restrict it to one thousand numbered tweets, each one 140 char max.

    Could just tweet out the new tax code and leave it up. (One thousand tweets sounds like a lot, but there is a fair amount of ground to cover.)

    My other beef is with how poorly we spend what we collect.

  3. Yeah, I've seen this before with a different twist (the guys were going out for a beer not dinner). It would serve the cause better if the facts were correct. If only nine guys went for dinner the last night then the cost would be $72 not $80 (9 x 8 = $72 versus 10 x 8 = $80). So they would be short $44 not $52.

    1. Yeah, I thought that too -- but they would still be short.

    2. Yes, but if you are trying to teach economics it would be better served to have the correct numbers.

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