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Provocative politicians are provocative

February 15, 2012

This has to be the stupidest suggestion I’ve seen in a while. The young members of parliament from the conservative German party CDU/CSU (the so-called “Christian Democratic Union”) have suggested that people above 25 with no children should pay an extra tax. The motivation is that parents are doing their part for society by raising new little workers/taxpayers, whereas childfree people selfishly profit from this when they get old and need care.

Well, thanks a bunch. Like I’ve already said on this blog, I would dearly like to have children, but can’t afford it. An extra tax on top of that would be really helpful.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in finding the suggestion idiotic. Everybody who isn’t a conservative uses very sharp words against it. Even within the conservative party, critics abound. Chancellor Angela Merkel, while agreeing that something has to be done, says that the proposed tax would not lead to the desired outcome. Member of Parliament Gerda Hasselfeldt points out that not everybody without children is childfree*, some are childless**. Member of parliament Max Straubinger agrees, and adds that the proposed tax would also hit people whose children have grown up and moved out. His main point, however, is that the number of children is less important than the number of children who will have a productive employment in the future. Minister of Family matters Kristina Schröder says that it would be more sensible to reward those who want to be parents, than to punish those who don’t have children.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung*** gleefully points out that in this regard, German and Greek politicians are quite alike: both would rather give out money than push through budget cuts or tax hikes…

Member of Parliament Marco Wanderwitz, spokesman for the original suggestion, says that using the expression “extra tax for people without children” was a conscious provocation. They could have equally well proposed a general tax increase, combined with either lower tax rates for parents, or a generous governmental child support program. The end result for the citizens would have been the same: people with no children pay more into the state budget, people with children pay less.

I don’t really believe him when he says it was a conscious provocation. That’s such a typical fallback position for anyone who has made people upset. But he certainly has a point in that a tax increase for non-parents is functionally equivalent to a tax decrease for parents. So I guess I should be grateful that Wanderwitz & Co. either were stupid or chose to provoke. I could totally imagine that a tax increase for everybody, combined with tax rebates for parents, would have passed parliament with little fuss. Emotionally, there’s a world of difference. Even while conscious that it’s rationally the same, that model just feels better to me than the proposed “childfreedom tax”.

And here are the links for the above citations: Yahoo FAZ FAZ Die Welt Die Welt

For those not in the know: Germany already gives a tax rebate to people raising children, but in the form of exempting a portion of your income from taxation (“Kinderfreibetrag“), rather than in the form of parents paying a different percentage than non-parents. Married people get a lower tax rate than non-married, which was originally intended to let parents pay less than non-parents. These days however, the overlap between “married” and “parent” isn’t quite as comprehensive as it once was, so the system mostly feels unmotivated and unnecessarily complicated. I think the whole taxation class system should go away. True equality before the law – the same tax for all! Alas, that doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon.

* Childfree = has no children by choice.
** Childless = can’t have children for whatever reason, but would like to.
*** Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ for short) = General Newspaper of Frankfurt. The most high-brow newspaper in Germany. Only gave up printing their headlines in fraktur a couple of years ago.

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