Sustainability and the Flat Tax

The idea for an article about sustainability in the Republic of Armenia has been brewing in my head for some time now. It was to take the form of recommending that a Ministry of Sustainability be created. The adoption of a flat tax by RoA’s parliament brought the need for such a piece to the fore.

It would not surprise me if you are wondering what a flat tax and sustainability have to do with one another, and thinking that such a ministry would be redundant with that of Nature Protection which already exists.

Two clarifications are in order: what sustainability is and what a flat tax does.

I’ve noticed that many people perceive “sustainability” to be just another way of saying “environmentalism” or “conservation” – just a new name for an old thing. That is not the case. Sustainability is founded on the concept of a triad that assures the best possible conditions for human society. That triad is known as “The Three E’s” – ecology, economy, equity (listed in alphabetical, not priority, order, since they are co-equal from a sustainability perspective). What is done in these three areas should be perpetually doable without causing damage that would eventually make the same activity impossible to continue. (examples- if you cut trees too fast and do not replant, eventually there are no trees left to harvest; if you don’t invest in factories and newer technologies, eventually, there are no jobs to be had; if you overwork and underpay people, they will eventually leave, get sick or die, and no labor will be available).

The idea is that without a properly functioning environment, an economy which provides opportunity and fairness for people in their work and other aspects of life, no society can long survive, let alone grow and develop. So you see, the environment is only part of the sustainability picture.

The idea of a flat tax, i.e. everyone in a jurisdiction (country, province, city, etc.) paying the same rate is superficially appealing and seems very fair. Every citizen is treated the same, right? Wrong! The problem lies in its IMPACT on people. Let’s say that a 10 percent flat tax is enacted for the citizens of a country called Yergeer. Now, let’s look at the impact of that flat tax on three citizens named Low Tzadzian, Middle Meechagian and High Partsrian. Let’s say Low makes 100 money units (MUs), Middle 500 MUs and High 1000 MUs. Let’s also say that each of them is part of a family of five. Naturally, people eat more or less the same amount, which means the cost of food is roughly the same for each of our three citizens. Similarly, the cost of housing is roughly the same for them. The same applies to transportation, recreation, etc. But we all know that as people make more money, they tend to buy more expensive versions of the same things, so we’ll say that Middle spends 10 percent more, and High 20 percent more than Low on each category of life expenses. What do we get? Take a look at this table.

Category Low Tzadzian Middle Meechagian High Partsrian
Income 100 500 1000
Tax (10 percent) 10 50 100
Post-Tax Available Funds 90 450 900
Housing 30 33 36
Food 20 22 24
Transportation 10 11 12
Health/Medical 10 11 12
Remaining After Necessities 20 373 816

You can see that the Tzadzian family has very little left for emergencies or recreation, even savings, after paying for the necessities and the flat tax. So the IMPACT of the 10 percent flat tax on the budget of the family is much greater than on the Meechagian and Partsrian families. A fairer tax system might be one that is progressive. In our example, perhaps the Tzadzians should pay five percent (or even zero), Meechagians 15 percent, and Partsrians 25 percent. This would leave the families with 25MUs, 348 MUs, and 741 MUs, respectively. Obviously, the latter two families would still be comfortable with this arrangement, while the Tzadzians would be significantly less negatively IMPACTED, i.e. those extra percent MUs would be a big boon for them.

Yet, despite the obvious fairness of a progressive tax system, the parliament of the RoA just adopted a flat tax system, throwing out the previously existing progressive one. This was done despite advocacy by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (probably others too, of which I am unaware), and even demonstrations by the Armenian Youth Federation, against the flat tax.

This is very ironic. Parliament is currently composed of members coming from the people who led last year’s uprising against the corrupt system and leadership that was smothering the RoA. Citizens were expatriating in droves. The uprising threw out the corrupt oligarchs and inspired hope for a better life. Yet now, we have the flat tax which benefits the same class of people who enriched themselves on the backs of the population at large while hurting those who are in the weakest economic condition. It’s insufficient to fight corruption and tax evasion by the rich, which this government has made a priority and is achieving some success in accomplishing. An equitable system must be put in place.

That’s why a RoA Ministry of Sustainability is needed, along with a corresponding committee/commission in parliament. It would be the purview of this ministry to review all proposed policies for how sustainable they are. It would be a barrier to adoption of policies such as the flat tax that flouts the notion of sustainability in both the economy and equity aspects.

Let’s let the RoA government know how bad of a decision they have made. Write and tell it through Armenian embassies worldwide.

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Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
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