Sunday, July 16, 2017

Land of opportunity

America is the land of opportunity, or so we’re told. For the vast majority of us, including immigrants, it is. For a minority it’s just not. At a certain level, the barriers are just a little too high.
Regressive taxes: The federal income tax was supposed to be progressive. The personal exemption in 1913 when people worked for a dollar a day was $3,000. A common cliché’ was, “I wish I made enough to pay income tax.” Over the years, the exemption has varied. It’s now $4,050, nowhere near a year’s pay. Not even at minimum wage. (2,000 hours at $7.25 = $14,500) Progressivity is supposedly built in but the successful have more deductions available to keep income safe from a higher marginal rate.
Mortgage interest deduction: not if you are a renter. Deductions for travel to “inspect your rental properties”: nope. Medical expense deduction: only for the part that exceeds 10 percent of your gross, even if that’s for elective plastic surgery. Deductions for business equipment (that might experience a little private use): nope. The list goes on but I’m not a tax lawyer, oh, yeah, that’s a deduction, too. If you use a lawyer to help you avoid income tax, that’s deductible. There are even special deductions that only apply to select wealthy individuals.
Sales tax (VAT, GET): The rate is flat, and sometimes food is exempted whether it’s rice or lobster. It’s taxed if it’s served ready to eat whether it’s $99 chateaubriand at the Four Seasons or 99 cent corn dog at a gas station. The hotel maid takes the bus to work, shops at the local store where everything costs 10 percent more than Walmart and maybe 50 percent more than Costco, where she can’t afford a membership. Thus she not only pays more, but pays more tax. The way GET is calculated the small store pays at Costco, includes it in their cost, then adds it on again at retail.
TAT: Everyone pays at hotels, even the cheapest, but if Obama vacations free on Rick Branson’s yacht in the Virgin Islands: no tax.
Gasoline and vehicle weight tax: Hits hardest those who travel furthest to work in older cars that weigh more and use more gas.
Both the rich and the poor are equally forbidden to sleep under bridges or steal bread. Granted, it’s an old cliché’ but it’s a valid commentary. The person who can barely afford his old car is more likely to experience an expense he cannot pay to pass nitpicking safety inspection: can’t pay, can’t get to work.
Health care system: It is very good at what it is designed to do. What it is designed to do is insure that insurers profit from insuring healthy people. The insurance is deductible to the employer and untaxed benefit to the employee who is lucky enough to qualify. The under-employed, not being part of a group, pay a much higher rate, if they can even get it. Not so bad if you stay young, healthy, accident-free and not pregnant.
Here is what I don’t understand. How does it benefit us to deny pregnant women health care? How does it benefit our nation if children are born with preventable health problems? How does it benefit us all if a mother dies in childbirth, if the welfare mom has another baby because she was denied birth control, if the unloved child falls in with bad companions? How does it benefit society when an able-bodied worker dies of a simple infection? Would not a healthy worker be more productive?
Sometimes greed motivates progress, but greed that denies basic dignity and imposes long-term costs on society is not only mean, it’s stupid. Limiting essential care is like watching your neighbor’s house burn down and refusing to lend him your hose because he should have bought his own. If everyone has that attitude, one day the whole town burns down.
Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a semi-monthly column for West Hawaii Today. Email

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