There’s a new Internet meme floating around - an e-mail that goes like this:
“Ten men decided to have a business lunch once a week. They always met in the same restaurant and the bill was always $100.00 for all 10 men. If each man was responsible for his share of the bill, each would pay $10.00.
The men decided to divide the bill based upon their ability to pay, inspired by the government’s progressive approach to collecting income taxes. The formula they eventually agreed upon included the following payment arrangement:
Man #1, #2, #3, and #4 paid nothing.
Man #5 paid $1.
Man #6 paid $3.
Man #7 paid $7.
Man #8 paid $12.
Man #9 paid $18.
Man #10 paid $59.
After a number of weeks of the 10 men reliably frequenting his establishment, the owner of the restaurant decided they deserved a discount. He offered to reduce the total cost of the men’s lunch by $20.
This created a bit of a problem among the gentlemen, because the four men who paid nothing felt cheated that they were not sharing in the windfall. The others complained that if the $20 were to be distributed proportionally based upon the amount each paid each week, Man #10 would receive over half of the total discount amount.
So the restaurant owner proposed this solution:
Man #1, #2, #3, and #4 still paid nothing. They were unhappy at being excluded from the benefits of the reduction, but a discount from zero is still, in fact, zero.
Man #5 now also paid nothing. His contribution went from $1 to $0, so he received a 100% discount.
Man #6 now paid $2, receiving a 33% discount.
Man #7 now paid $5, receiving a 28% discount.
Man #8 now paid $9, receiving a 25% discount.
Man #9 now paid $14, receiving a 22% discount.
Man #10 now paid $50, receiving a 15% discount.
So they completed their meal and left the restaurant. Once outside, an argument ensued.
Men #1 through #4 were displeased that everyone else received a benefit except them. Man #5 was upset that he only got $1, while Man #10 got $9. Likewise Man #6. So these men beat up Man #10, took his money and left him bleeding on the sidewalk.
The men returned to the restaurant the following week for lunch, but of course Man #10 was a no-show. So when the bill arrived, the remaining men discovered they couldn’t afford to pay even half the bill.”
No one’s sent ME this particular e-mail, because they know that A) I’ll probably disagree with their point and B) I’ll have a ready answer. Still, I spend a lot of time nowadays immersed in social media and lurking on the Internet, so this e-mail came onto my radar pretty readily.
Needless to say, I think the analogy of the effects of our graduated tax system is an overt oversimplification of what’s really going on, that it’s tweaked to make one point without taking certain things into account, AND that it’s ultimately damaging to the conversation we SHOULD be having about the direction our country is going.
To drive my point home, please allow me to add some undisclosed facts regarding the story at hand.
What the author of the story failed to mention was that, every time the end of their meal came, Man #10 would assure the rest of his fellows that he’d finish up paying the bill, and told them to leave their portion and go home. They did. Then Man #10 would call the manager of the restaurant over and tell him that, even though his agreed upon portion of the bill was $59, he really didn’t feel he should pay that amount. He told the manager he’d pay a significantly lesser amount, and that if the manager disagreed, he’d make sure that the manager would lose his job.
The manager was a greedy man, eager to please his boss, the restaurant owner, because he was getting a steady and generous paycheck. Still, he was unwilling to tell Man #10 “No”, because he knew that Man #10 was a powerful and rich man, and could in fact do exactly as he threatened.
So the manager told Man #10 not to worry, that he’d work it out somehow. Man #10 left, satisfied and smug, and the manager set to work trying to figure out how to make up the difference in the 10 men’s bill.
After some consideration, he went next door to the Chinese restaurant, then across the street to the Swiss bakery, and simply borrowed the money from them. He did this over and over again whenever the 10 men came in, until the restaurant had amassed a tremendous and un-repayable debt.
So there you have it - the rest of the analogy.
Now, before I continue, I’d like to also point out a flaw in the original. While the parallels between it and reality are clever, if oversimplified, one thing happened in the original story which hasn’t happened in “real life”. So far, no one’s pummeled Man #10 and left him bleeding in the gutter with his wallet emptied. Because of that, the original analogy falls apart. It ends, in fact (and rather unclimactically), with the men returning again and again to the restaurant, with Man #10 leaving with his portion of the bill promised but unpaid again and again, and with the restaurant sinking further and further into debt.
At this point, you’re either going to take my continuation of the analogy and use it in your discussions against people who try to use it to argue against a graduated tax system, or you’re gnashing your teeth in a mild (or maybe not so mild) fury because in a way you know I’m right, and in a way, you’re absolutely sure I’m oversimplifying matters and tweaking the “facts” to my own end. Which I am.
To those of you who applaud my audacity, I say, “Yes, please. Take it and run with it. Use it. Enjoy.”
To all of you, though, I offer this thought: I understand that the analogy, including my addition to it, is simply not an accurate portrayal of the whole story - the real tale is way too complicated to analogize adequately. The difference, though, is that I am not using the analogy to make a point about our political process and income tax.
I’m using the analogy to make a point about abusing analogies to make political points.