Keeping with my nature, I am going to take a stand that I know is universally abhorred, but I am comfortable in the resolve of my opinion. It is a political no-brainer, and just plain easy, to rant against taxes. People are easily mobilized by their hatred of taxes, and drawn to any conversation on conservative AM stations on the subject. Glenn Beck has even called some taxes “racist.” Most people make a good living laying into the tax man. I’m not one of those people.
My grandfather was a dairy and potato farmer in Maine, a descendent of the pilgrims who crossed the Atlantic to settle into a new land. My grandmother was the daughter of Polish immigrants, who came here in the early 1900s to find a better life. Neither was wealthy. Each had to struggle against enormous odds to make it through the Great Depression. But from each I learned the nobility, the honor, the obligation, to reach beyond ourselves in support of others — friends, town folk, the “community,” fellow countrymen. I am blessed to lead the life I live, but have seen so much taken away so quickly — families wiped out financially by chronic illness, once promising careers lost to economic forces. We are no different than any other family, and that’s my point. There but for the Grace of God go each of us.
The tax system is dysfunctional, outdated, and in dire need of reform. Too many pay a disproportionate share of their income in taxes, and many others, through the use of loopholes, tax shelters or schemes, have the means to pay their share, but pay significantly less. That’s not fair. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the average family gives 9% of its earnings to the government in taxes. Former Republican Congressman Dick Armey conceded that “the federal tax rate right now is at a good level.” A good level for the very wealthy. Do you realize that over the last 50 years taxes have dropped most significantly for the top 1% of earners?
We just did a show on an alternative tax method — the Fair Tax (see Episode 75 to right). While they can’t register me on a list of supporters, I love the principles of simplicity and transparency. I’m not sure I can find anyone that can explain the current tax system to me now in a simple way, other than to say: unfair, burdensome. I would like to see a system whereby Americans are encouraged to make money, live the American dream, but share fairly and more equally in meeting our financial obligations.
The place where those taxes go, that’s another story. Congress wastes a lot of money, funding pork projects and earmarks, creating or sustaining programs for which funding is lacking, and for which we deficit spend to meet our needs. I get all that, and I, like many others, would gladly take a meat cleaver to the Country’s budget. We have a responsibility to live within our means while also meeting our obligations. But I stand solidly in the corner that we have obligations to each other, and this is an ethic not only shared by my grandparents, but by the colonists who settled our country. One of the first acts in coming to the new country was to establish a tax in support of the destitute, a tradition carried over from England were “poor laws” were in existence since 1601.
But too many vilify the system and its participants — those who work in government — and spew hatred that leaves us on the brink of violence (which has sadly manifested itself at times, like in Oklahoma City or more recently in Texas). So I write today to stand in defense of the defenseless. Many people I know speak in terms of “us and them,” of those in Washington taking our money away, of what we don’t have, what’s being taken from us. The anger is legitimate, but so is the sacrifice of those who work on our behalf. Some, like Sarah how’s-that-rhetorical-gun-metaphor-writing-notes-on-your-hand-thingy-going Palin, speak of tax revolts, tea parties, and taking over the system. I watched in horror recently as a man with Parkinson’s Disease lay on the ground while someone from an anti-tax society ridiculed him, angrily tossing dollar bills on him, satirically saying “here’s your government handout.” My grandparents wouldn’t recognize that kind of person. I fear my generation is filled with too many of them, and will be remembered more for its selfishness and greed than its contributions to humanity.
When my grandfather was alive, I was told he’d take his surplus food and give it to his neighbors, without being asked, but knowing they needed help. My grandmother used to tell me that she was proud to pay her tax bill, because it confirmed her status as an American citizen, something that she was so proud to be. There isn’t a day when we aren’t all the beneficiaries of government programs — programs that are so much a part of the fabric of our lives that we don’t even recognize them — our military and intelligence services keeping the country safe; police and fire fighters, teachers, postal workers. It’s easy to vilify taxes, but I urge you instead of reacting instinctively this April 15, to recognize that you are in some way doing a greater good, and you should feel a measure of pride in helping your fellow man. I, for one, appreciate your support.
— Jeff Kimball