Acton Institute Powerblog

You Can Keep Preaching About Tax Fairness, Mr. King, But Cut a Check First

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Novelist Stephen King recently added his voice to the chorus of superrich clamoring to be taxed more. He knows his critics will call for him to “Cut a check and shut up,” but King says he’s not going to be keep quiet. He believes he and other uberwealthy citizens have a moral imperative to pay more.

Clive Cook has a solution that should satisfy both sides of the issue. As Cook says, “it’s childishly simple once you recognize that two separate questions are involved.”

Would IRS donations by Warren Buffett and Stephen King make the tax code fairer? No.

Would IRS donations by Warren Buffett and Stephen King help to remedy the inequity they say the tax code causes? Yes.

In other words, Warren Buffett and Stephen King should write generous checks to the IRS and not shut up, but keep demanding the fairer system they say they want.

Here’s a parallel. Suppose I’m thinking of becoming a vegetarian. I think eating animals is immoral. I think there should be a law against it. But at the moment it’s legal, and my giving up meat wouldn’t really make much difference. So I intend to remain a carnivore until justice prevails and everybody is forbidden to eat meat.

It seems to me that this position is ethically unsatisfactory. My turning vegetarian would not be a pointless gesture. It would bear witness to my ethical convictions and might make others follow my example. And whereas my giving up meat really wouldn’t have much quantitative impact, Buffett’s tens of billions and King’s hundreds of millions are fiscally non-negligible. It’s a start. And anyway, continuing to enjoy the benefits of the tax system’s gross unfairness is just plain wrong, isn’t it?

So keep talking, by all means–but send in the checks as well.

I wouldn’t have a problem with King preaching about raising taxes on the rich if he was willing to voluntarily do what he himself claims he’s morally obligated to do. But I don’t suspect he’ll take up Cook’s solution because King isn’t really interested in “tax fairness” at all. His refusal to “cut a check” shows that what he really wants is for the government to have more power—power to force others to do what he doesn’t want to voluntarily do himself.

But if we are going to force them to do their “patriotic” duty (King’s words) why stop at forcing them to pay more taxes? Why not have mandatory military conscription for the uberrich (or their children)? Since the wealthy have been given so much, shouldn’t they be the first to serve their country? Where does the demand for forcing people to do their duty end?

King may be the master of the horror novel, but his call for increasing government power is the scariest thing he’s ever written.


Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).