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LETTER OF THE DAY - Finding 'fairness' in the tax debate

Published:Friday | May 25, 2012 | 12:00 AM


The proposal by the Private Sector Working Group (PSWG) has evoked a massive cloud of emotion over the already persistent fog of responsibility discourse. To wit, 'who should and who should not pay taxes' has become the moot for our 50th anniversary debate.

Some of the interlocutors are throwing verbal missiles with apparent rational impunity, thereby skewing the argument towards the ad hominem abusive.

Everyone should pay taxes, whether poor, middle-class or rich. That the tax codes need to be written and executed fairly is something about which all civic-minded persons can agree, one hopes.

However, the challenge seems to revolve around what constitutes 'fairness'. One does not have to be a student of political and economic theories to realise that discussions about fairness, as important as they appear, are never devoid of personal interests and selfish motives which, nevertheless, do not disqualify them! Yet we need to review the arguments within the contexts of resources, levels of need and prospects for production.

The difficulty with most proposals of economic fairness is that the 'prospects for production' are never seriously considered in the socio-economic calculus of development. Hence, economic 'fairness' has come to connote 'handouts' rather than the ongoing equipment for responsible citizenship and a credible foundation for good governance.

Of course, one must quickly disassociate 'prospects for production' from 'the injunction to produce', since the latter is a threat and the former an evaluative assessment for what it might take to derive a positive outcome.

In this regard, I believe that the PSWG pro-posals are a very good start to what may deliver a more constructive and equitable base for tax considerations.

Flaws in argument

Finally, there are two egregious flaws in many of the online postings on this subject, namely, the assumption that the PSWG is, in fact, Mr Joseph Matalon - a grave insult to the other members of the group; and the specious ad hominem attacks on Mr Matalon, rather than on the merit of the ideas, for being a Jamaican of privilege.

Ideas cannot be good or bad simply on the basis of who articulates them. If that were the case, all of us could be disqualified on the basis of some prejudice with which we are, rightly or wrongly, associated.


Princeton, New Jersey