The tax man cometh

“When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.”

— Plato

That Greek philosopher’s epic wisdom endures 24 centuries later.

See, as Tuesday’s deadline for filing income tax returns looms, we Americans aren’t the first folks to find an income tax “unjust.”

It’s also just plain aggravating, despite this year’s two-day reprieve thanks to April 15 falling on a Sunday and Washington, D.C.’s Emancipation Day falling on Monday, April 16.

But considering the colossal growth of our relentlessly expanding federal government over the last eight decades, we need the income tax to generate enough money to pay for it.

Only we’re not fully paying for it. We’re simply buying our big-government lifestyle on credit.

In recent years, federal revenues have covered only about three-fifths of federal spending.

Thus, we’re en route to our fourth straight year of federal deficits that more than double any previous annual shortfall before President Barack Obama entered the White House.

Yet last week the president proclaimed economic “fairness” — not the alarming national-debt crisis — as the “defining issue of our time.”

To advance such “fairness,” the president proposes a “Buffett Rule.” Named for investment-savvy billionaire Warren Buffet, who insists that he’s not paying high enough income taxes, the rule would subject incomes of $1 million or more to a federal income-tax rate of at least 30 percent.

Some people buy the White House’s “fairness” pitch. Some don’t.

But there’s nothing fair to the poor, the middle class or even the rich about recklessly spending the U.S. government into insolvency.

And nobody who can count seriously suggests that the Buffett Rule, if implemented, would remove more than a few drops from our vast red-ink bucket. The White House has conceded that such a tax boost on millionaires (and billionaires) would increase projected revenues by only $47 billion over the next decade.

Before dumping all of the blame for our bottom-line mess on President Obama and his fellow Democrats, though, remember that federal deficits were rising at an alarming rate under his predecessor.

Remember, too, that while raising taxes on the rich won’t restore fiscal balance, neither will those restrictive “no tax hike” pledges that so many Republican politicians have taken to appease their party’s base.

Yes, under certain conditions, tax cuts can spur economic growth enough to actually increase tax revenues.

Yes, presidents and Congress have a wasteful habit of squandering new revenue as soon as they get their hands on it.

Yet a prohibition on ever raising taxes on anyone for any reason while federal deficits spiral out of control is not a traditionally conservative concept. Nor is it fiscally responsible.

The enduring questions of what government should and shouldn’t provide, how much it should spend, and how that spending should be funded, will again be central issues in this year’s elections.

Americans who think we can tax our way to prosperity should realize that the wealthy already bear a huge share of the federal tax burden.

Americans who think we can tax-cut our way to prosperity should realize that overdue entitlement reform — if we ever get around to it — inevitably will demand both benefit reductions and “contribution” increases.

So if you haven’t “done your taxes yet,” happy hunting as the deadline closes in.

At least the agony will be over soon — until next year.

And again, lest you imagine that your income-tax frustrations are something new, ponder Plato’s timeless insight.