Why should the tax code favor having children over adopting a dog or buying an iPhone?
That's the question at the heart of this ironic op-ed by Adam O'Neal at the Wall Street Journal.
I hope to meet Mr. O'Neal soon, because I'm not sure he's a real person. Adam O'Neal, I fear, is a socialist in disguise as parody of a capitalist.
O'Neal, by positing that a doggie tax credit — or an insect tax credit — is as legitimate as a child tax credit, is peddling the idea that people are equivalent to animals and by extension to things. I don't know whether it makes me a big-government bleeding heart or a Bible-thumping conservative to say this, but I'll say it:
People are people. Not-people are not people. People have infinite value and must be treated as ends in themselves. Not-people have contingent value and can properly be treated as means to ends, even if they're adorable and furry means.
The Marxist says that the capitalist sees humans as cogs in a machine. This WSJ op-ed argues that a tax reform for a consumer good is indistinguishable from having a child.
Let's start with a basic difference: A baby is a future taxpayer, while a puppy is not a future taxpayer. But that's too materialistic. We do and ought to favor humans over puppies and iPhones over small humans, not because humans will soon pay taxes, but because other people are the greatest worldly reason for which we live.
Nobody says that we live in order to please terriers. Nobody thinks that we are here to help iPhones more fully live out their purposes.
Humans are the most fundamental unit of taxation, because humans are the most relevant unit of existence. The idea of the personal exemption is that a guy and girl raising four kids should be taxed like six people, because they are six people.
I haven't noticed Mr. O'Neal or any conservative journalists complaining about the abolition of personal and dependent exemptions. If a guy earns $90,000 to raise a family of six and we tax him the same as a guy earning $90,000 for himself, then we're doing it wrong.
I'd rather have a big personal exemption and no child tax credit. The poverty line, sensibly, is higher for a family of four than it is for a solo individual. The reason: It costs more for four people to live than it does for one person to live. Relatedly, the 0 percent rate ought to extend higher for a family of four than it does for a married couple with no kids.
If you're going to scrap the personal exemption, as the GOP plan does, then replacing it with a bigger child tax credit is fair play. That is, if you see children as people.
If, in the alternative, you see children as consumption — like an iPhone or a puppy — then you think there shouldn't be a dependent exemption or a child tax credit.
Then you have to answer: Are people any different than cogs in a machine? Mr. O'Neal's answer is apparently, "Woof."