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Belltown Messenger #82 - August 2010

Mondo Culture-O

Anti-Tax Mania

One of my Facebook friends used as a profile picture a shot of a sign at one of those anti-government rallies that are such the rage these days. It read “More Fun Less Taxis.” I assumed the standard bearer probably meant “taxes” and not taxicabs. It really undercuts your argument when you can’t state the nature of your protest accurately.

    But it did get me to think about the increasing demonization of taxes in this country. Back in my youth (I believe it was during junior high school), I was going around my neighborhood campaigning for an upcoming school levy. I came to a house where a grandmotherly type answered the door. After I explained my mission she said, “Well, we don’t have children, so we don’t vote for the levy.”

    So, if this tax didn’t benefit her directly, she wasn’t going to vote for it. I was stumped for an answer then, but I would have plenty for her now. She may not have had children, but she obviously lived in a neighborhood where there were children. Wouldn’t she want them to be better educated so they’d be less likely to engage in petty theft or property vandalism? With well-funded schools that offered sports and arts programs to help keep the kids busy? And when those kids become teenagers and work in the local grocery store, wouldn’t she rather be served by someone who knows how to ring up her purchases properly? And when those same teens enter the workforce as adults — and a number of them will surely remain in her neighborhood — wouldn’t she want them to know what they’re doing when she patronizes businesses where they’re working? Be able to answer simple questions? Demonstrate how a product works? Understand something about the world in which they live?

    I don’t, in general, have a problem with paying taxes. I like having paved streets and sidewalks. I like having public libraries. I like having national parks. I like having public schools. I like having a police force. I like that we have social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. And the list goes on.

Sure, some of these institutions have flaws in the way that they’re run. But the way to address those problem is not by cutting taxes. Yet the notion that taxes, in and of themselves, are bad things, is disturbingly pervasive. When Vice President Joe Biden said during the last presidential campaign that paying taxes was patriotic, he was as lambasted as if he’d said that you can fly to moon if you just flap your arms hard enough.

How do these anti-tax people think that things get done in this country? How do they think the things we take for granted (schools, libraries, etc.) are paid for and maintained? I always wondered if the stories about a protestor at a Tea Party rally holding a sign saying “Government hands off my Medicare!” were actually true, Medicare being a government program after all. Surely no one could be that deluded? (see, I do have a shred of faith in humanity left after all).

The anti-tax mania is actually nothing new. I recently read a interesting new book by H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945. It’s a basic overview of the last 55 years, more fact-based than analytical, but a good introduction to what happened during the period. And there were a few nuggets like this:

“The Great Depression had seriously challenged the received version of the American dream: that men (mostly) and women who worked hard and saved for rainy days could expect a measure of material comfort and security in their golden years without resort to government.”

Without resort to government. Yes, there’s always been a strain of thought in this country (usually from the conservative side) that thinks you should be able to stand on your own two feet. And if you want/need help, there’s something wrong with you; you’re either incompetent or a bad person in some way (this also explains why some regard a statement like “It takes a village to raise a child” as a kind of heresy).

And post-WW2 there were further causes for alarm when employers began offering medical insurance as a way of attracting new employees to a company:

“Some conservatives lamented this development almost as much as they decried the growing reliance on government programs; both, they said, sapped the self-reliance that had made America what it was.”

Self-reliance that had made America what it was. I guess that explains some of the hostility toward the health care bill. And not just that particular bill — any type of legislation that would provide a safety net for people was damned. My friends in Europe know better than to ask me to explain why there’s no national health care here because I don’t understand it myself.

No, I don’t like the fact that my taxes are funding wars I don’t support. But condemning all taxes, and working to cut them, only ensures that the country will increasingly slump into a state is disrepair. And I’d really like the future to be something I can look forward to. Not something that I’m afraid of.

-Gillian G. Gaar

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