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MCCULLOUGH: Who's the fairest of them all?

Fairness — everybody wants it in life, yet most admit it’s nearly impossible to obtain.

It's hard for most people to even agree on what's fair. To a guy who makes 100 grand a year, a 10 percent tax probably seems perfectly reasonable, while the same percentage to someone who makes $10,000 a year would seem an unbearable burden.

I use the tax example because it's on the minds of the electorate, the candidates and the protesters, all of whom have been rolling out the word "fair" in its many incarnations lately. The GOP candidates all want a "fair" tax system (and that's not including the one that's actually called the FairTax), though to whom a new system would be fairest is up for debate. Much of the citizenry — the part that's not in the one percent of top income earners — would obviously like to see that balance tip a little in their favor. And the protesters, well, I can't figure out what they want besides a free place to pitch their tents until the end of time.

And speaking of figuring things out, I'm still trying to decipher Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan, and now — showing just how strong of a candidate Cain has become — Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, et al, are unveiling their "simpler" and "fair" tax plans.

In fact, it's been quite a busy few days in this debate. In the same week that Cain and his opponents went on the offensive with their respective tax messages, the Congressional Budget Office released the findings of a study showing the top 1 percent gaining income at an astronomical rate compared to the rest of us, a 275 percent increase for the super-rich compared to 65 percent for the just-plain-rich, only 40 percent for the middle class and 18 percent for the poor over the past three decades. Those findings seem to lend support to the Occupy Wall Street movement just as cities across America begin reclaiming their public grounds from the protesters. And let's be honest, it'd be easy to fall in with the protesters' anger given the economic state of things.

But let's be honest about something else: 50 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax. None. Zero. Half of the people in this country pay nothing to support any government operation of any kind while the top 1 percent pay 40 percent of all the federal income taxes collected and the upper and middle classes pay the rest.

As dirty of a word as "government" has become to many of us, it's still a necessity for certain things. I'll let you decide whether it's defense, infrastructure, national parks, entitlements or something else. Whatever the benefit or service, for every person who pays taxes to receive such, there is another one who pays nothing to reap the same. Does that seem fair?

I'm not necessarily defending the rich — those guys may earn it, but they enjoy a lot of advantages that help them out, too, advantages that are bought. In my book, footing a big portion of the bill is part of the price of those advantages. Nor am I advocating taxing the bejeezus out of the poor. But instead of 50 percent paying nothing, everyone except for the truly indigent ought to kick in a little something. That's a plan I could get behind.

One that would be fair.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.