A tax on merely being male

    The Swedish MP Gudrun Schyman has recently proposed a special surtax on men, i.e. an extra tax on every citizen whose gender is male.

Founded on statistics

    Her argumentation rests on available statistics:

    • Perpetrators of crime, causing immense costs to society, are in about 90 % of the cases male
    • Traffic accidents are overwhelmingly caused by males
    • Nearly half of all women over 15 have been assaulted by men, almost never by women
    • Men are on the average better paid (by 5-30 %) for the same job
    • Only a small minority of corporate board members are women
    • Etc, etc.

    Her idea doesn’t seem altogether unreasonable –- those who cause a cost should also reimburse the cost they have caused. Insurance companies use this principle every day, making you pay according to the risk group you statistically happen to belong to. Car insurance is more expensive in urban areas and cheaper in rural areas, life insurance is more expensive if you are old, drivers in the 18-25 age group are statistically a higher risk and pay more, etc. If men are in a higher criminal risk group, then they should pay for the corresponding cost that crime causes –- police, courts, prisons, damages.

    Gudrun Schyman has not yet specified what this “masculinity tax” would amount to, in monetary terms. Of course, an equitable tax rate could be easily computed from available statistics. I would expect, off the top of my head, that it would amount to 5-20 % extra tax on all males. It’s conceivable that she has some kind of age differentiation in mind as well. After all, most violent crime is committed by men under 30; few male senior citizens are found among active bank robbers and rapists.

Not a laughing matter

    It would be a mistake to laugh off this idea, even if it may sound weird and even if it is not very likely to be enacted by the Swedish parliament. Because it is a rhetorical way of pointing out a very real fact. Males are, without any statistical doubt whatsoever, far more violent and far more criminal than women. Mind you, not all males by far, just a small minority. But among women you rarely find even this minority. On top of that, men as a group have cut themselves a larger slice of the wealth pie than women.

    This lopsidedness between genders may be due to environment, genetics, hormones, whatever. But modern civilised society must eventually find an equitable way to handle the problem of excess male criminality, aggressiveness, and economical power. Putting a price on it makes it stand out more clearly against the background of nebulous, well-meaning generalities.

At first glance, the arguments for a masculinity tax might not sound too unreasonable. However, at second glance, the actual truth of it is that implementing such a tax, on the basis of the statistics at hand, would be deeply unfair.

The idea probably stems, to at least some degree, from the practice in insurance companies of discriminating between males and females. This is, while not a perfect solution, at least an acceptable one. By buying an insurance, I accept the terms of this. I have a choice. I can choose not to buy the insurance, taking the risks associated, or I can decide that the benefit of the insurance outweigths the cost, even if this is higher than what a female my age would pay. Unfair, maybe1, but in the end it is my own choice.

A masculinity tax would, however, not be a choice. I was born male, can't change that, and I can't choose not to pay my tax2. There's a fundamental difference there. And as for the foundation for the masculinity tax, the statistics, well, we have a good example of statistics being misused.

While it is true that the majority of crimes are perpetrated by men, only very twisted logic can bring this to mean that the majority of men are criminals worthy of punishing. Because that is what such a tax would be - a fine for being male. The same goes for the argument about corporate board members.

Let us, for a moment, assume that 90% of corporate board members are male. This happens to be the same percentage as the number of criminals who are male. Let's further assume that 1% of all men are corporate board members, and 5% of all men are criminals. That's 1 in 20. A reasonable guesstimate, I would guess, if one ignores misdemeanors. The board members, being upstanding citizen, are of course not part of this group of criminals. Now, in a population of 10 millions, equally distributed between the sexes, this means that we have 300,000 men who are either criminals or board members. There's also about 30,000 women who are one of the two.

So many fewer women. It is unfair, isn't it? But wait. There's 4,700,000 men who are neither, compared to 4,970,000 women. That's not such a big difference. Actually, there's only 5.74% more innocent women around than there are innocent men, and that's including the crime of being a corporate board member.

This argument actually works pretty well against most of Schyman's statistical arguments, including the traffic accidents. We're already paying for the traffic accidents, however, in the form of higher insurance. Won't that be double punishment for our reckless driving? And forbidding the practice of the insurance companies to weight up for it only punishes those of us, like me, who don't even have a car, and therefore can't really cause any traffic accidents more serious than walking into you.

The only argument that remains is the one about men earning more for equivalent jobs. This is a problem, which can and should be remedied. A masculinity tax is, however, not the solution. It's trying to cure the symptoms instead of the cause, and would actually work against its intended purpose. If we have to pay more tax for an equivalent level of income, then it's only fair that we have a higher level of income. Furthermore, it would punish those men who earn lower wages more than it would punish the richer ones, thereby widening the gap between rich and poor. I'm sure I'd easily be economically able to pay a masculinity tax once I graduate. I'm not so sure some of my friends would.

I can see no other conclusion than that a masculinity tax would be both unfair and in all probability work against its intended goal of gender equality. It is therefore my opinion that this is an idea only a populistic or misguided politician could stand for3.

1I'd say it is. The statistics speak for the costs, but I am not a statistic. That, however, is a completely different discussion.

2Well, not entirely true. Sex reassignment would, I'm pretty sure, change my legal sex to female, thus escaping the tax (and higher insurances. Wohoo!). Not paying my taxes is also possible, but it would land me in jail. Neither are realistically good options.

3Note: I am not trying to push any specific political agenda here. Gudrun Schyman, the originator of the proposed masculinity tax, is no longer in politics (she was in fact forced to resign over charges of tax fraud). For that matter, I'm not even swedish.

Note-2: As far as I know, a masculinity tax has not been enacted anywhere.

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