[FOUNTAIN]Leave ethics out of issues of economicsSome people say that the taxes imposed by the state and a so-called street tax collected by gangs are essentially the same. The only difference is that one is legal and the other is a crime. They point out the state and the gangs both forcibly collect money from the people. Radical French liberal Pierre Lemieux says that, by definition, when gangsters secure an unchallenged position, they essentially become the state.
As we entered the era of democratic society, the purpose of taxes became a matter of importance to the community. Balancing the interest of the community and that of individuals or groups is the center of any debate over taxes. The issue of fairness emerges quickly. Many people are convinced that the wealthy should pay more in taxes; their argument is there should be justice in distribution.
The Japanese economist, Yasuo Takeuchi of Seikei University, says “justice” in this case is merely a camouflage for envy. The poor are jealous of the rich and assume the moral high ground in demanding the rich pay more.
Koreans have been debating the comprehensive real estate tax system. Former Vice Minister of Finance Kang Man-soo, who is a taxation system specialist, wrote in a column that the real estate tax was a product of the “economics of envy,” meaning that the hidden agenda behind the tax system is the majority’s envy towards affluent Gangnam residents. Meanwhile, Democratic Labor Party lawmaker Sim Sang-jeung harshly criticized the property tax system for being incomplete. He pointed out that the system does not apply to a Tower Palace condo, whose standard price is 1.7 billion won ($1.6 million), if it is co-owned by a couple. In singling out the luxurious condo, he was simply showing that his claim was the economics of envy.
When ethical analysis enters the realm of economics, the economics of envy is born.
Ethics pursues justice and tries to resolve problems by accounting for emotions. Therefore, ethics can distort economics, which in the purest form seeks the greatest efficiencies without taking emotions into account.
Some consider public opinion to be a sort of supreme law, so the economics of envy holds great sway. Professor Takeuchi suggests that ethical approaches not be taken to resolve economic issues, because wiser solutions can be found in market principles.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.