Thursday, September 29, 2005


On the drive into work today, I was listening to NPR's Morning Edition, and I heard Corzine and Forrester (both NJ gubernatorial candidates) sniping at each other about if and how many times Corzine had voted to raise or cut taxes. The underlying assumption being, of course, that raising taxes is bad and cutting taxes good.

You know, of all the damage the conservative movement has done in the last thirty years, the promotion of the idea that taxes are inherently bad may be the worst. When I sit and think about the things tax dollars have created, I come up with the following:
  • Interstate highways
  • Social Security
  • The Internet
  • Public transportation
  • Railroads
  • The GI Bill
  • Regulatory agencies like the FDA or OSHA
  • Medicare
  • Public schools
  • Free libraries

I don't know about you, but I think these are pretty good things, as a whole. Sure, there's waste involved in each, but what organization, public or private, doesn't waste money? My gosh...I used to work at a law firm that wasted tons of money; I could tell you stories that would curl your hair.

No one is anxious to pay taxes, and yet almost nobody turns down a chance to grab government money. The most rock-ribbed Mississippi Republican will take every post-Katrina federal disaster-recovery dollar on which he can get his greedy hands. Big oil companies routinely lobby for federal subsidies. The airline industry practically lives on the public teat. When Uncle Sam wheels out the government trough, every little piggy, from richest to poorest, pushes his snout right in.

The issue, as I see it, is not the amount of tax we pay, but the value we receive. I don't mind handing over a dollar to the feds if I receive a dollar's value in return. Low taxes aren't by definition good, and high taxes aren't by definition bad, and I think there are a lot of Americans who would agree if the issue were properly presented.


Blogger Emmett said...

Taxes didn't create those federal programs, they just made those federal programs feasible, which is more to the point of what you're talking about in terms of receiving value for investment.

Some of the programs you mentioned aren't great examples. Social security is essentially a very large pyramid scheme.

Railroads are mostly useless to me as a traveler because they're controlled by companies like Amtrak (again, another one at the public teat). I do require them to get food and other sundries to my house, however. Still, I pay for it. I've actually paid for it many times over.

The GI Bill, well, that gets into another problem entirely when it comes to the value of a college education, which to my own experience seems to be fairly negligable.

Also, I pay for public transportation. How much have I paid for the Market-Frankford Train projects while I've spent the last decade or so in this city?

All that being said, I agree with your main point - I don't mind paying taxes as long as I get (or my community gets) something out of it. The problem is that most Americans want the government to be held to a level of financial culpability that they cannot maintain as citizens. I'm not saying that I'm the happiest kid on Earth when my government borrows 200 billion bucks to help out hurricane victims, but I am aware that most Americans are at least $7,000 in credit card debt. It's hard to point fingers.

11:51 AM  
Blogger TrackerNeil said...

I don't find your distinction very compelling. While the institution of taxes themselves did not create the programs, the fact that taxes were levied enabled their creation. Any distinction there is IMO cosmetic.

Social Security, which you call a pyramid scheme, is an extremely popular program that helps everybody. I call that a government success.

I agree that Americans demand better behavior of their government than they do of themselves, but I guess that's humanity. :-/

1:05 PM  

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