So, since we just finished talking about earnings stagnation, I figure it's time to note another inequality gap that's been growing over the years: the Leisure Time Gap. Modern technology and productivity aids have allowed Americans to enjoy ever more free time each week. Unfortunately, not some segments of the population have been left behind. It looks like the rich haven't gotten their fair share of the leisure time gains.
Now, there are some free marketeers who don't see a problem here. In their minds, the rich are making a free choice, opting to work harder and longer for more money instead of taking a break and earning less. They don't see a problem with a society where honest rich folk are forced to make a decision between surplus earnings and free time.
But I do see a problem. Asking a rich person to sacrifice some of his money in order to get some time with the kids is liking asking a Wal-Mart employee to sacrifice some of his free time in order to take night classes and train up for a better job. That's being a little cold-hearted, isn't it?
My proposal? A fair-minded progressive tax. We can set a "leisure poverty line" at 80 hours worked per week or so. Any CEOs, attorneys, surgeons, or other folk who work more than 80 hours per week would be considered impoverished and would not have any obligations under the system. Those working 80-60 hours/week would be taxed 10% of their leisure time, those working 60-40 would be taxed at 15%, 25% for 40-20 and 35% for 20-0. The numbers could be adjusted as we see fit, but you get the general idea.
As with the income tax, the purpose of the progressive taxation would be redistributive. Using needs-based screening, we'd aim to place the maximum amount of leisure time in the hands of those who have the least under the current system. A workaholic CEO for instance might currently be working 90 hours a week and earning $10 million a year, clearly well below the leisure poverty line. The beggar camped out in front of the CEO's office building might be earning a hundred dollars a week on 0 hours of productive work. Under my system, the beggar would be taxed 35% of his windfall leisure time and would be expected to perform 39.2 hours/week of unpaid labor for the CEO. That's 168 hours, minus a 56 hour/week sleep allowance, multiplied by 35%. We might also consider allowances for eating and/or exercising, subject to such restrictions as might be negotiated in committee or decreed by the executive branch after enactment.
Certainly there are some inefficiencies in the system. The beggar might for example lack poise in the board-room or might not be fully informed about the market in which the CEO's company is engaged. While these potential inefficiencies are readily acknowledged, we must accept that equality is worth some minor sacrifices from society at large.
Hat tip Tim @ 4HWW.