This past week Dr. Michael Rachlis launched Doctors for Fair Taxation, calling for the top wealth earners in Canada to be taxed even further. Given that physicians are often prominent members of this tax bracket, the initiative attracted lots of attention.
Rachlis suggested to Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom that this could inspire a "Lawyers for Fair Taxation." Walkom responded with skepticism, which to me was incredibly telling of the way that lawyers continue to be perceived in society.
The rationale behind Rachlis' group is that income inequalities lead to poorer health indicators, and that the decline of social indicators in Canadian society is largely due to shrinking government revenues. Their proposal was explained in the Canadian Press,
Doctors for Fair Taxation are proposing new surtaxes that would tax any income over $100,000.
People who earn between $100,000 and $170,000 would pay an extra one per cent on the income between those two figures and income between $170,000 and $640,000 would be subject to an extra two per cent levy.
Income over $640,000 and less than $1.85 million would be hit with an additional three per cent and income over $1.85 million would be subject to an additional surtax of six per cent.
The group estimates that the federal government would earn an extra $3.5 billion a year and Ontario would raise an extra $1.7 billion.
A calculator is available here to determine how much more tax you would pay.
Raising taxes is one of the most unpopular moves possible for politicians, in almost any economic climate. So maybe it takes a group of physicians, who enjoy much a much higher public perception than politicians, to publicly encourage higher taxes for high earners, starting with them personally. Except that doctors enjoy a much higher public perception than lawyers as well, which always had me thinking.
The only way that lawyers will ever improve their perception in society is by increasing their pro bono work and publicly involving themselves in more altruistic work for the betterment of everyone. There are many things lawyers could learn from doctors, and this initiative is just one of them.
And so I introduce to you Lawyers for Fair Taxation. If the site looks remarkably similar as the physicians' one, there's a reason – we've been discussing with that group all weekend and plan on working closely with them. The one significant difference between the sites is the number of people who have signed the petition on each, because our site was just launched this afternoon. That distinction can only be changed by people like you signing the petition.
Although there are some voices who raise legal questions of equality under a progressive taxation regime, most Western economies accept that some level of progressive taxation is required to stimulate the economy. Since the economic recession there have been calls to simply increase the amounts at the top brackets.
What do lawyers have unique to add to the conversation? Well how about studies that show that income inequality is a predictor and possibly a determinant for homicide rates in Canada, for starters? The supposed benefits of reducing income inequality would be felt beyond the low-income targets of social programs, because middle-class citizens would live in safer neighbourhoods as well.
It may mean less work for criminal lawyers who handle homicide cases, in the same way that poorer health indicators result in less visits to the doctors. But that's exactly why lawyers need to be on the record as supporting initiatives beyond their own self-interests.
There are already reports of an Engineers for Fair Taxation mobilizing. Please don't let the lawyers be left out.