Claim: Humorous essay describes "how taxes work."
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2002]
This is a VERY simple way to understand the tax laws. Read
Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:
The first four men — the poorest — would pay nothing; the fifth would pay $1, the sixth would pay $3, the seventh $7, the eighth $12, the ninth $18, and the tenth man — the richest — would pay $59.
That's what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the
"Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20." So now dinner for the ten only cost $80.00.
The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other
The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being PAID to eat their meal. So the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.
And so the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in $2, the seventh paid $5, the eighth paid $9, the ninth paid $12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of his earlier $59. Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free.
But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a dollar out of the $20," declared the sixth man who pointed to the tenth. "But he got $7!"
"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man, "I only saved a dollar,
"That's true!" shouted the seventh man, "why should he get $7 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!"
"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison, "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"
The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn't show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered, a little late what was very important. They were
And that, boys and girls, journalists and college instructors, is how the tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table anymore.
Where would that leave the rest? Unfortunately, most taxing authorities anywhere cannot seem to grasp this rather straightforward logic!
Professor of Accounting & Chair,
Division of Accounting and Business Law
The University of South Dakota
School of Business
414 E. Clark Street
Vermillion, SD 57069
Origins: The only real question to be tackled regarding this humorous parable supposedly
The signature block at the bottom of the currently circulating Internet version identifies it as being the work of
The parable, of course, then brings in the drama: The proposed tax reduction of President Bush would reduce income taxes by a total of 20 percent, and the benefits of that reduction are distributed along the lines suggested for the ten diners.
And yes, the protests arise, reaching maximum volume in the matter of relieving the tenth man from his customary contribution of $59 toward the common meal, lowering it to $52.
Okay, but the drama is then taken to what one might call a fourth act, which is one too many. The tenth diner isn't going to be lynched because his survival is too necessary to the other nine diners. What they will do is attempt to diminish the reduction in his allocation of his benefits from the reduced dinner price and spread it among themselves. They'd like to see the tenth man continue to pay 59 percent of all taxes.
That way it doesn't hurt. Ah, but the parable writer obviously believes that it would hurt, in the long run. Because if that tenth diner tires, or is crushed into diminished productivity, he won't have the $59 to contribute to the pool, and that would be very, very inconvenient. Perhaps even life-threatening. If the restaurant has to go without that critical subsidy from the tenth diner, it might just have to reduce the rations paid out.
Granted, if the parable were refined even further, it would have to ask: What was it that caused the tenth man to be so obliging in the first place? Were they threatening to lynch him if he didn't put out? Did the tenth man plot to protect himself? Was he the critical voter in Florida in November 2000?
Every night they lined up in the same order at the cash register. The first four men paid nothing at all. The fifth, grumbling about the unfairness of the situation, paid $1. The sixth man, feeling very generous, paid $3. The next three men paid $7, $12 and $18, respectively.
The last man was required to pay the remaining balance, $59. He realized that he was forced to pay for not only his own meal but the unpaid balance left by the first five men.
The 10 men were quite settled into their routine when the restaurant threw them into chaos by announcing that it was cutting its prices.
Now dinner for the 10 men would only cost $80. This clearly would not affect the first four men. They still ate for free. The fifth and sixth men both claimed their piece of the $20 right away. The fifth decided to forgo his $1 contribution. The sixth pitched in $2. The seventh man deducted $2 from his usual payment and paid $5. The eighth man paid $9. The ninth man paid $12, leaving the last man with a bill of $52.
Outside of the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings, and angry outbursts began to erupt.
The sixth man yelled, "I only got $1 out of the $20, and he got $7," pointing at the last man.
The fifth man joined in. "Yeah! I only got $1 too. It is unfair that he got seven times more than me."
The seventh man cried, "Why should he get $7 back when I only got $2?"
The nine men formed an outraged mob, surrounding the 10th man.
The first four men followed the lead of the others: "We didn't get any of the $20. Where is our share?"
The nine angry men carried the 10th man up to the top of a hill and lynched him.
The next night, the nine remaining men met at the restaurant for dinner.
But when the bill came, there was no one to pay it.
Last updated: 10 March 2015
Buckley Jr., William F. "A Parable: The Tenth Man." National Review. 27 April 2001. Chait, Jonathan. "Liberal Use." The New Republic. 22 June 2001. Chicago Tribune. "Voice of the People." 4 March 2001.