How do you enrage a Slate reader? Advocate a “soak-the-childless” tax platform, as Reihan Salam did recently. “Reform conservatives” like Salam have been promoting family-friendly tax policies for some time, but this piece gets personal:
I have come to the reluctant conclusion that I ought to pay much higher taxes so that working parents can pay much lower taxes….We all benefit from the work of parents. Each new generation reinvigorates our society with its youthful vim and vigor. As my childless friends and I grow crankier and more decrepit, a steady stream of barely postpubescent brainiacs writes catchy tunes and invents breakthrough technologies that keep us entertained and make us more productive. The willingness of parents to bear and nurture children saves us from becoming an economically moribund nation of hateful curmudgeons. The least we can do is offer them a bigger tax break.
Salam is right that parenting is an expensive business: The U.S Department of Agriculture says that raising a child costs $301,970 over 18 years. And that doesn’t include the cost of college and any wages lost by a parent who stays at home full- or part-time. A non-parent has all that extra income to invest or to spend on travel, luxury goods, or the like. Salam argues that we should increase taxes for “non-parents who earn more than the median household income, just a shade above $51,000” as further recognition of the burden that parents shoulder.This suggestion certainly got a strong reaction from Slate readers, but it may have also approached the problem from the wrong end. Instead of subsidizing the cost of children with tax credits, we should do more to lower those expenses in the first place. The costs of family life begin with the marriage ceremony and just keep piling up until the kids graduate from college (and nowadays even after that). Cheaper forms of health care and higher education are on the horizon, and new technologies could help us reduce the cost of living in other ways. We should pay attention to the expenses of parenting in particular, but everyone would benefit from a cheaper cost of living.This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t favor some additional tax credits for parents. It would be sensible to reward homeschooling parents, for instance, who do double duty by paying school taxes even as they take on the expense and effort of educating their children. But first and foremost, we should be doing everything we can to make everyone’s earned income go further.