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Taxing Times

Apr
18
2006

Oh boy, do I love paying taxes.
All right, call off the straightjacket and let me explain. Of course I actually hate paying taxes. Along with phone bills or credit card bills or anything else that takes away from disposable income that could be disposed of on, well, I’m sure given time I could think of something I don’t mind paying for.
And the current tax system is ridiculously complex. It’s also unfair in many ways, and – worst of all – goes to support government actions that are unconscionable.
That said, vive le taxation. Because, like growing older, paying taxes isn’t much fun but the alternative is worse.
This is what a civilized society is all about. We give up a little to make things better for everyone. U.S. tax rates are relatively low, and compliance in paying is pretty high. The amount of tax money siphoned into private pockets rather than public works is also relatively low. That means there’s money for things like, at their most basic, roads. Or schools. OK, boring, but imagine if we didn’t have them. (I know taxes don’t get transferred to schools and such as they might, but we’re talking general principles here, rather than specifics.)
With kids, too, you really need those village services, the schools and parks and libraries. Many Americans are enticed away from the idea of collectivism by the thought that if they’re let alone to strike it rich themselves they can pay for the services – a private school, a big yard instead of parks – that they and their families need. One reason that’s a fraud is that you simply can’t fully compensate for many missing public services, except maybe at Bill Gatesian income levels. Or if you try to pay for the gated community home and the private school and the other extras, you have to sell the kid they’re intended for, and that rather defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
A Spanish visitor stayed with us in San Diego a few years ago. He saw our really cool parks and our relatively clean beaches and our landscaped highways (litter-free by private action though) and our well-maintained schools and proclaimed America the true heir of communism. He was joking but right in some ways, and that’s thanks to a feared tax collector and, at least at a neighborhood level, some sense of the importance of acting for the collective good. (Our guest mainly saw the richer suburbs and tourist areas, and that of course is one of the U.S.’s greatest challenges: to spread the benefits of its wealth throughout society.)
Think about that basic measure of collective conscience: whether or not there’s toilet paper in women’s public bathrooms. Sure, it’s private action but it’s indicative. Where would you rather travel: high tax, social-program supporting Denmark, where there’s paper in every potty; or individual-idealizing America, where it’s, pardon the pun, a crapshoot? (I have written about Copenhagen’s perfect paper record before, but I’m still impressed.)
Paying taxes is at least as much of a civic action as voting, although it’s not usually described that way because it’s not like you have a choice. So, when you dropped the envelope in the mailbox, or hit send on your computer, you deserved a little pat on the back. I’d say take yourself out to dinner, but, um, are you getting a tax refund? Because otherwise it might not be the best time of year.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 4:04 AM | Permalink

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