Acton Institute Powerblog

Families pay more in taxes than for food, clothing, and housing combined: Study

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The necessities of life include food, water, clothing, and shelter … but should the government cost more than all of them put together? A new study has found that politicians extract more in taxes than working families pay for their basic human needs.

Canadian families paid more to the tax collector than they did to the farmer, the grocer, the landlord, and the seamstress to sustain life itself, according to a new study from the Fraser Institute, a free market think tank.

The tax burden in Canada has risen 158 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1961, the report states.

The situation is a reversal from just a few years ago. “In 1961, the average family spent 56.5 percent of its cash income to pay for shelter, food, and clothing. In the same year, 33.5 percent of the family’s income went to governments as tax,” the study says. The point of parity came in 1981, when Canadians paid an even 40.5 percent of their income on necessities and government.

After 1992, the costs began to trade places. “The situation in 2016 is reversed from 1961: the average family spent 37.4 percent of its income on the necessities of life while 42.5 percent of its income went to taxes.”

The good news is that the cost of necessities has fallen through the transformative power of the free market. The bad news is that government has grown, both overall as well as a percentage of income expenditure.

Significantly, the tax burden rose faster than household income during the same period.

The institute calculates the annual Canadian Consumer Tax Index by adding the amount families pay in an array of federal, provincial, and local taxes – including taxes on income, healthcare, sales taxes, property taxes, fuel and carbon taxes, vehicles, alcohol and tobacco “sin” taxes, tariffs, and many other government levies.

“Although businesses pay [many of] these taxes directly, the cost of business taxation is ultimately passed onto ordinary Canadians,” the institute rightly notes.

A similar situation holds across the transatlantic sphere. The Tax Foundation, which calculates the annual date of Tax Freedom Day in the U.S., states that Americans collectively spend more on taxes than necessities (although the burden does not fall evenly).

Tax Freedom Day in the EU comes (sometimes much) later yet, although food prices are also (somewhat) higher.

Government undoubtedly provides stability and order necessary for a civilized life. But given that earners on both sides of the Atlantic are paying more to politicians than for food, the Fraser Institute asks a simple question: “Are you getting good value for your tax dollars?”

The answer for Canadian families is open to debate. Take, as but one example, the crown of Canadian government: its national healthcare system, known as Medicare.

Quebec had the worst emergency room waiting times in the Western world, according to a report from the province’s health and welfare commissioner, Robert Salois, which was released last June. More than a third (35 percent) of patients spend five hours in the ER waiting for care, and as many as another third (30 percent) leave without ever seeing a doctor. In fact, the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that 10 percent of Canadian ER visitors in 2014 had to wait 28 hours to get a bed. The UK’s NHS waiting times have become notorious. The U.S. wait time is a fraction of those in either nation.

The ER wait is illustrative of other mandatory waits that arise from the rationing that inevitably follows the socialization of any good or service.

Rather than risk their health, an estimated 1.4 percent of patients (63,459 Canadians) left the country to obtain healthcare last year, according to another report released by the Fraser Institute in June. That’s an increase from 2015.

This is but one government program, albeit a large (and growing) one.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation reports that politicians approved other, less worthy taxpayer-funded ventures in 2017, such as:

  • Provincial – The Government of Quebec paid a political appointee $180,000 per year for nearly four years even though she almost never went to work;
  • Federal – Canada Revenue Agency for employee’s $538,000 moving expenses; and
  • Federal – The Department of Canadian Heritage commissioned a $14,000 survey on Parliament Hill’s Christmas light show.

Forcing working families to divert their hard-earned money to such projects is wasteful and raises moral issues. Market distortions caused by unnecessary government intervention reduce the efficiency of the market – and that comes at a real price to families. An intrusive public sector bureaucratizes the care of the poor and robs subsidiary institutions of their role and, in the case of churches, their divinely appointed vocation. Government leaders similarly may violate their duties to be wise and just stewards of their citizens’ resources by multiplying projects, boondoggles that too often favor their crony contributors, and wealth transfer programs.

“Public authority therefore would act unjustly and inhumanly, if in the name of taxes it should appropriate from the property of private individuals more than is equitable,” Pope Leo XIII wrote in Rerum Novarum. He further instructed rulers to assure that “private wealth is not drained away by crushing taxes of every kind.”

He did not specify a precise level of taxation. However, when the government requires more of its families than they spend to feed, clothe, and house themselves, that threshold has likely been met.

(Photo credit: Will Keightley. CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

Comments

  • Steve Vinzinski

    The article is excellent one must wonder what the numbers will be if this budget passes.The president has proposed that you can no longer deduct real estate taxes from your federal income tax.In my county the average family pays around $6000.00 in real estate taxes parts of New Jersey well over $20,000.0 a year.Also no longer can you deduct any medical expenses.My wife and me pay in the $42,000.00 range for premiums and out of pocket.These re killers for two seniors.Of course this is just an proposal.The president wants to change the tax brackets to three.Right now one pays a couple that is 10% to $18,000.00 then 15% to $75,000.00 then 25% to $125,0000.00. Do not be fooled on the New brackets and the $25,000.00 deduction you already have an $15,000.00 deduction.Figures rounded off check with Google.Also no state or local taxes can be deducted from the federal in addition to the real estate taxes.Please wake up AARP is fighting with their petitions.