At first glance it may appear to be an appealing idea (if we are not wealthy) that we allow our government to forcibly take money from the rich and give it to those who are less fortunate. Let’s apply a little engineering thinking to see if this idea is valid.
First, why should our government treat one class of citizens differently than another class? In private business this issue does not exist. If anyone — rich, poor, or in between — goes to a store to purchase a loaf of bread, they are all charged the same price. We don’t even think about it, fair is fair. Everyone pays the same amount for the same item.
However, when it comes to federal income taxes (which in essence are payments for services that the federal government provides) somewhere along the line we have succumbed to the thesis that it is perfectly acceptable for wealthy folks to be forced to pay more tax than regular folks.
But why? Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft and one of the wealthiest men on the planet, gets the same government services as anyone else. Although one of the essential services of the federal government is protection of the homeland, one does not find extra squadrons of fighter jets defensively circling Mr. Gates’ neighborhood, nor are there any Navy Seals assigned for his personal protection when he goes sailing. In other words, Mr. Gates gets (in general) the same benefits from the government as the average citizen, yet he pays enormously more taxes.
Therefore, why is it acceptable to charge rich folks more than average folks, when rich folks receive the same service? Perhaps the ten commandments are today considered quaint by some, but nestled amongst them is the admonishment for us to not covet our neighbor’s goods. Aren’t we displaying poor moral judgment when we allow our illogical envy of the wealthy to justify taking from them to give to ourselves?
If you were fortunate as a child, your parents bestowed upon you some of the pearls of humanity’s hard-earned wisdom in the form of children’s fables. These bedtime guides to good moral behavior, particularly a good work ethic (e.g. “The Little Red Hen,” “The Three Little Pigs”), provide a solid and essential foundation to ensure that a child grows up to be a mature, responsible, and happy adult. The reasons that such tales are essential is that they are what engineers call a calibration reference; that is, they provide a set of highly accurate rules about human nature that can be relied on to successfully guide personal, as well as societal, behavior.
Have Your Morals Been Calibrated?
Without a moral foundation, folks tend to become obsessive about material things. It has been firmly established, however, that material acquisitions — beyond having food to eat and a roof over one’s head — do not make one happy. On the contrary, an obsession with possession leads to deep unhappiness.
Some children, with nothing yet to show of great accomplishment, resort to distinguishing themselves by calling attention to their designer clothing or by “look at me” show-off behavior. Adults who flaunt their three hundred dollar sneakers, or who make it a habit to be conspicuously seated at fine dining establishments, are likewise exhibiting childish behavior.
Although most of us enjoy material things, the more mature among us do not use them as a proxy for our self-worth. To the contrary, true grown-ups feel a dash of pity (in addition to a dollop of annoyance) toward status-flashers, knowing that such antics are a sign that the flashers have likely accomplished little of real value in their lives. If they had, there would be no need to bring out the bling. They would instead frame a diploma, display pictures of their well-adjusted children, or discuss current events, art, science, and (quietly) their charitable endeavors.
Those folks who champion Pizzanomics, therefore, may be unwittingly exhibiting not only their lack of understanding of basic economics, but also giving us a glimpse into their immature and envy-riddled world view.
A Summary of Engineering Thinking Principles