Needed: National Sliding Fee Scale

23Oct09

At present, there are sliding fee scales in which higher fees are charged to higher-income individuals, often to subsidize services provided to lower-income individuals.  This occurs in a variety of areas, such as income taxes and the provision of health services in neighborhood clinics.  These and other income-related gradations in services may be simplified and made more predictable and manageable through development of a general-purpose sliding fee scale.

It may turn out, for instance, that I am in category T.  Category T may mean that I am in a 38% tax bracket – as distinct from category S, which would be at, say, 37.5%.  Also, I am in, say, a 96% entitlement bracket, which means that I am entitled to 96% of the dollar value of benefits provided to the lowest-income individuals.  So whereas they pay nothing for the provision of basic food to prevent starvation, and whereas the wealthiest people would be expected to pay market price (or possibly even more) for that same quantity and quality of food, I am entitled to receive that quantity and quality of food at a price of only 96 cents on the dollar.

The purpose of this innovation would be to enhance both the public understanding of benefits available to various kinds of persons and the possibility of fine-tuned, relatively uncontroversial adjustments to those benefits over time.  If, for example, there is not enough money in the governmental revenue stream to cover the anticipated costs of benefits supplied to people in category D, there would need to be negotiations on the qualifications and benefits applicable to that category, with relatively visible and typically symmetrical compensations in adjacent categories.

It may develop that public irritation and division on such topics would be reduced as the dialogue would shift from vague depictions of stigmatized categories of persons (e.g., welfare cheats, plutocrats) to more lucid gradations in differences among persons.  In essence, class would be reintroduced into the official lexicon of American society, but along a relatively smooth and bloodless continuum that might supplant the coarse and divisive class categories found in earlier class conflict perspectives.

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