I was surprised that a number of commenters actually defended the marriage penalty in the comment section of my recent tirade. I thought it worth driving a nail into the coffin of one particularly popular but fallacious argument.
Some commenters argued something to the effect that “two can live almost as cheaply as one” (or more specifically at less than double the cost of one.) First let’s consider someone born with the love of the sea. It leads him to buy a sailboat as an adult. As a result, he has less income to spend on food, clothing, and shelter than the typical guy. Should he pay a lower income tax rate, to compensate for his unusually high living expenses?
Now consider six young professional women. Three are picky misanthropes who don’t like sharing bathrooms and kitchen counterspace with other women. The other three women share a three bedroom apartment, thus having lower per person shelter costs. How should we think about this situation?
Most people would say that the three women living alone are free to share an apartment with others if they wish, and thus must derive lots of utility of having their own private place. I can certainly understand that, I was a picky misanthrope who lived alone for more than 15 years. I can’t image anyone saying there should be different tax forms for the three women sharing an apartment, and that they should pay a higher tax rate than the other three. Indeed, I don’t think people would want that to occur even if the government could costlessly ascertain who is living alone and who is not. So why all the arguments for the marriage penalty based on the notion that it is cheaper to share an apartment with others? I don’t get it.