Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hyman's British Blunders

Hyman makes some elementary logical blunders in his commentary about “Big Brother” and alleged tax redistribution in Britain.

The subject is a recent reform of the Council Tax, the closest British equivalent of local property tax. Hyman is upset because the new tax system will base the value of a home not simply on the value of the property, but on a complex set of metrics that include quality of life issues.

Hyman wonders ominously whether Big Brother will come to the U.S. eventually.

Obviously, there’s an appeal to fear at work here, but that would be okay if the fear was justified and/or the thing feared was accurately described. But that’s not the case.

First, Hyman implies that the British plan would “redistribute” income from the well-off to those who aren’t. But in fact, the Council Tax is a local tax that contributes a rather small amount (25%) to the upkeep of the local government and all it oversees. In other words, those living in posh areas are paying more for the upkeep of their own posh areas; the landed gentry of Upper-Cummerbund-Upon-Thames aren’t subsidizing the buskers hustling coppers in the Tube.

Second, the plan, like it or not, is not that different from our local property taxes, which are based not only on the value of the property (which *is* influenced by all kinds of small, quality-of-life, variables, even if they aren’t factored in explicitly and individually), but on home improvements. Again, the British system is doing little more than codifying a process that’s more hazy and ill-defined in the States, but not altogether different.

So what we have is a slippery-slope argument based on false premises. Even if the British system were the Orwellian nightmare Hyman portrays it to be, there’s no reason to think that this will affect U.S. tax policy (although I’m sure Hyman’s intent is to make his listeners have a knee-jerk reaction against any change in the regressive tax policies of the Bush administration).

Moreover, the slippery slope he portrays ends up with something not too dissimilar from what we already have in this country.

An argument from false premises and a slippery slope: two, two, two big fallacies in a single “Point!”

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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