A discussion on paying tax

I had dinner with two of my best friends the other night and we started discussing how different university educations primed you to be more left wing or more right wing  politically, because of which society problems you got exposed to during your studies. I should mention now, this post has very little to do with the environment.

This night, me and my friends were specifically comparing a business school offering economics, finance and business leadership as degrees, and a school of social science offering social work and social psychology to mention a couple. You can probably guess which one primed you to be left or right wing ;)?

I have a problem both with left wing and right wing politicians. The left wing, both in Finland and the UK have this really weird style of shaming wealthy people. As if they were deliberately trying to screw everyone over and make poor people miserable? That’s obviously not the case.

We live in an economic system of capitalism with inheritance rights and property rights. If you are born to parents who have the resources to raise you into a well educated person with high work ethics, you have more of a chance to become rich. Blaming and shaming wealthy individuals is absurd, because they just behave according to the circumstances and system they were born into. This mentality is quite common in Finnish culture though.

To the next point, the right wing has this absolutely absurd way of shaming people who were unlucky in life. People who were born to poor parents with mental health problems, are shamed and blamed for inheriting both the poverty and the other problems. Imagine a child who does not have access to any kind of after school help with studies, who does not have an adult with the time and capacity to prepare healthy meals, and has no role models for choosing careers that make you rich. It’s not their fault that their parents had to work evening jobs to make enough money.

If you are poor and you become seriously ill, for example, you just might become so stressed about the money situation as well that you can’t even focus on properly recovering from your illness. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, but in many cases it’s really this way. Sometimes right wing parties blame these people in an unfair way, based on false accusations about being “lazy” when its really just that someone has been more unlucky in life than most of us would be able to cope with.

Finland ranks as the number one happy country in the world this year. I believe a big reason for that is our high taxes. However, this system won’t be sustained if the people paying the highest taxes are being blamed and shamed. Then the people earning the most will move abroad, and Finland is left with too little tax money to support the people born into less lucky circumstances.

How people feel about paying taxes depends on how it is psychologically presented. Right now, the way the Finnish state presents if feels to many people who work hard like “We are going to take 50% of your income to punish you for trying to be better or work harder than other people. Shame on you for earning to much, give the money here right now!”.

What if instead of lowering the tax rate to make these wealthy people feel better, we just changed the psychology behind paying tax? First of all, I think that wealthy people need to do a little bit to let go of the thought that “I’m worth all this money”. In my opinion, we should never be psychologically motivated to work just for the benefit of ourselves. We should be motivated to work harder to make also other people’s lives better.

What if you really started realising that the money that goes into tax was not your money to begin with? You and the job you did really was worth only 3500 euro a month, not 5000. That extra 1500, it was destined to be a gift to children. That money was never even meant to be yours, it was meant to make sure that all children can receive an equal education. Humans have an amazing capacity to empathy, and we have strong instincts to care about our community. So instead of pointing fingers at wealthy, hardworking people: make them realise how much good they do for the community.

People who contribute with much work but little money also deserve thanks and feeling good, the fact that our buildings are clean and our babies are being delivered safely are worth being grateful for. It is not an “either or” situation, it is possible to let wealthy people feel good about contributing without being afraid that it would mean people who pay less tax are worth less. The left wing seems to thing that letting someone else feel good is somehow away from them.

I think there has to be income differences, because different people have different preferences and we should be able to have some free choice of how we want to live. Someone does not like big houses and think the idea of working more to get a big house is absurd, whereas someone else would literally give up all their free time to get a big house. Those differences in preference are fine, and they do not make one person better than another.

However, we live in a community and by living in a community, you can’t just do a complete solo race and not give a f*ck about anyone else. I don’t have an idea of a better system right now, so I think we stick with capitalism for sure, but the redistribution that the Finish state does, is not “stealing from hard working wealthy people”, it is making sure that we have a working community where happiness is maximised. Then again, I might not always agree with what the current government does…

I have two ideas of how to make paying taxes more fun. One is that you would get to indicate a preference where 5% of your taxes should be spent. Children, elderly or the environment, for example? That would psychologically trigger the feeling of giving a gift, a feeling that most people love! Then, whenever you get your tax form sent to you, there would be a letter showing how much good you did and how your indicated preference was improved.

The counter argument to this would be that it allows rich people more control in democracy. However, IF it proved to be a good way of avoiding tax evasion, this little trade off would surely be worth it.

We should remind ourselves that it can be really motiving to work harder and better for the benefit of our community, and not just for ourselves. Giving gifts makes everyone happy. Receiving gifts should also never be seen as something shameful. The fact that someone was not able to pay for their own hospital care does not in any way make them a worse person. We live in a community with individuals with different weaknesses and strengths. Let’s also be happy if we are not able to contribute that much with either money or work, let’s remember that we can all contribute with love for our community, and that’s what matters: showing that you care about other people.

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