Barstool Economics: Taxes Made Simple

Posted by on February 3, 2008 at 3:26 pm.

taxesI’m sure many of you have run across this simplified tax analogy before, but it was new to me. Although it’s not a perfect match to our system magnitude-wise, the core of the example rings true — in very simple terms. The author of this piece remains a mystery, but that’s kind of irrelevant…to me at least.

How Taxes Work . . .

This is a VERY simple way to understand the tax laws. Read on — it does make you think!!

Let’s put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men — the poorest — would pay nothing; the fifth would pay $1, the sixth would pay $3, the seventh $7, the eighth $12, the ninth $18, and the tenth man — the richest — would pay $59.

That’s what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement — until one day, the owner threw them a curve (in tax language a tax cut).

“Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20.” So now dinner for the ten only cost $80.00.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other six — the paying customers? How could they divvy up the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his “fair share?”

The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being PAID to eat their meal. So the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in $2, the seventh paid $5, the eighth paid $9, the ninth paid $12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of his earlier $59. Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free.

But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. “I only got a dollar out of the $20,” declared the sixth man who pointed to the tenth. “But he got $7!”

“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man, “I only saved a dollar, too . . . It’s unfair that he got seven times more than me!”.

“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man, “why should he get $7 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison, “We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn’t show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered, a little late what was very important. They were FIFTY-TWO DOLLARS short of paying the bill! Imagine that!

I also found this comment interesting on another blog discussing Barstool Economics:

Another interesting mathematical fact is how the share of the bill increased for the top “payers” even though they received a greater total discount.

the percentage of the bill for each “payer” at the $100 bill and the $80 bill.

1 – 00.0% 00.0%
2 – 00.0% 00.0%
3 – 00.0% 00.0%
4 – 00.0% 00.0%
5 – 01.0% 00.0%
6 – 03.0% 02.5%
7 – 07.0% 06.3%
8 – 12.0% 11.3%
9 – 18.0% 17.5%
10- 59.0% 61.3%”

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