On the Eve of April 15th, In Defense of Taxes

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The tax system is dysfunctional, outdated, and in dire need of reform.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



3 responses to “On the Eve of April 15th, In Defense of Taxes

  1. Well said. I’m more conservative, but point well taken.

  2. Michael Forrest

    Here’s an excellent article you might appreciate, written by conservative-leaning David Brooks.


    I’ve been thinking, talking and writing about these issues for years. Of one thing I am certain – any people that becomes wealthy, far beyond their needs, is doomed to decay and eventual disintegration unless it finds the meaning of charity.

    The wealthy “need” the poor as much or as more than the poor “need” the wealthy. Unless we seriously reach out to those in need across the globe (not just throwing money at problems, but becoming actively invested in the solutions to whatever degree we can), I worry that our society will continue to decay and go the way of Rome.

    There is nothing wrong with Capitalism. It’s just an economic tool -and a very efficient one at that. And this tool very accurately reflects the values of the people who employ it. The money flows to the things we value most.

    Now, who makes the most money in this country? Entertainers, athletes, etc. Right? So, in the richest nation in the history of the world, we value those who help us to escape from reality more than anything else. Hello? Does anyone else notice that disconnect? Why are we so motivated to escape reality and bury ourselves in the fake lives of others? Wouldn’t you think the wealthiest people on earth would be trying to squeeze every last bit of time in reality, because life is so good? Might this strongly suggest that wealth really isn’t nearly everything – and that this isn’t just a line made up by wealthy people to placate poorer ones? Something has to give.

    My concern, however, is that the government model of “help” generally perverts true charity and seriously undermines its positive effects. Rather than voluntary giving from the heart, a tax is forced taking. No matter how you slice it, very few people respond with a smile to a bill – because it’s not voluntary. It isn’t a choice. And those who receive the benefits typically begin to perceive these benefits as something “due” them. True charity has been perverted.

    That dynamic does not play out so much in private charities and individual one on one giving. The personal connection naturally brings with it a much greater sense of responsibility, gratitude, and sympathy from the receiver and the giver.

    I’m a strong believer in the principle of subsidiarity – matters should be handled at the lowest rung of the ladder possible and only move up when absolutely necessary. There is certainly a place for the government safety net – but the size of it must be kept carefully in check.

    The other danger of moving too quickly to federal programs is that large programs tend to be a disincentive to the smaller ones – people tend to think “the government is taking care of that” and so they tend to cede responsibility to others in government. That’s not good – we need more people to stay engaged and involved.

    When you look at studies of those with liberal political views vs. those with conservative political views, you typically find that conservatives give and devote much more time to private charity.

    For example: http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=2682730&page=1

    One case in point really hit home here in Massachusetts some years ago. The wealthy (and very liberal) John Kerry gave a few hundred dollars to charity while the wealthy (and fiscally conservative) Bill Weld gave about 20% of his income to charity.

    Sometimes, I think there is more than a little truth to the quip – “A liberal is someone who is generous with other people’s money.”
    But again, ultimately, something’s gotta give. For the sake of everyone who genuinely needs help – both the “haves” and the “have nots.” We need each other.

  3. Maureen Williams

    Jeff, great post. It brings to mind my Mom’s number one “Mom-ism” – it all depends on what seat you’re sitting in. My parents were children of the depression. My grandparents, virtually all immigrants to this country, some of whom came here speaking a language other than English, worked, struggled, saved, paid taxes, raised and supported their families and their relatives back home, and yes, offered whatever they could to help those less fortunate than they were. Those instincts were passed along to my parents, conservative Democrats both, who passed them on to me.

    My problem is that the taxes that you and I pay today don’t seem to go to the truly less fortunate, but rather to those who prefer (and in some cases even expect) a handout rather than preferring to work for what they have and give something back.

    Mom donates a significant percentage of her annual (retirement) income to the various charities she holds dear and believes in. It actually makes me feel guilty that I don’t contribute a higher percentage of my income to charitable causes. I don’t give nearly as much as I should because I find I have to put a bigger portion of my disposable income to making sure I can retire some day – since I will have to do it without the benefit of social security and most likely without Medicare either. The idea that I can’t have my money go where I think it would do the most good to help society (or indeed, selfishly, myself in later life so that I too don’t become a burden on society) is what I find offensive.

    As a child and grandchild of depression-era forbears, I find waste of any kind to be the ultimate injustice. And the waste to which the federal government puts our money is despicable to me. If it was going for the good I’d have no problem. The fact that it’s going for things like sending me a letter telling me I’m going to get the census that we’ve bought a Superbowl ad to tell you about, then gettting the census, then getting a letter telling me to fill out the census, is just despicable.

    Our military and intelligence services, police and fire fighters, teachers, postal workers, etc., should all be paid far more than they are and I’d have no problem if my taxes were going to pay them. What sickens me is that despite the fact that over 30% of my income goes direct to the government, we are (probably) losing the “war on terror”, dealing with increased crime and losing property and lives because of cut backs, sending our kids to public schools where they are unable to learn (and as you may know in a recent case in MA in actual physical and psychological danger due to lack of action on the part of those teachers), and getting our mail deliveries cut back by a day. Obviously, the money’s not going where it’s needed, so where the heck is it all ??? Until I have the answer to that question I will continue to feel I’m being robbed at gunpoint every year on April 15th.

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