I’m going to forgo my intended post on arete until Friday, as I would like to examine what I find to be a fascinating (and apropos) part of American political discourse: taxes. While different parts of the American political spectrum have quite different tax policies, what remains a shared characteristic is an aversion to taxes – the only difference is how much of a tax break to give.
Last night’s debate between Senator Obama and Senator McCain really put the rhetoric of tax cuts into overdrive. Both candidates were almost seeming to try to outdo each other in how much they would cut in taxes. Granted, the intended recipients of these cuts differed significantly between parties, but the fact of interest to me was that the entire discussion was framed in terms of “how much can we cut taxes?”
One wonders how anyone outside the U.S. manages to survive under much higher taxes. Do the French eat baguette because that is all they can afford? Do Germans gain such a good reputation for their engineering prowess because high taxes force them to innovate and increase efficiency? Do Belgians export their culinary expertise in waffle-making to gain an international competitive advantage to stave off the draining effects of taxation?
No, these ideas are pure silliness. But they do bring up an important question: how do we end up in an apocalyptic debate over perhaps a 10% difference in taxation policies between candidates when people in some European countries are just peachy with tax rates 4 or 5 times our own rate? What about those poor souls in Denmark that pay between 38% to 59% of their income in taxes?
Yet clearly, they’re doing just fine. Which begs the question of proponents of low-low taxes: could tax increases really be that horrendous? What I find most interesting is the assumption that taxes are siphoned off the populace and then frittered away on things that matter very little to any individual taxpayer. Modern American politics has effectively divorced taxes from any discussion of reinvestment. Taxes get taken away, and are never returned in the form of services. Or if they are, they do so in such an inefficient manner as to be excessively wasteful.
It’s one thing to advocate for higher taxes just because we can (see my earlier post expressing my vehement disagreement with earmarks). That, I strongly disagree with, and would exercise that opinion with my vote. But it’s another thing to take the opposite position: advocate the cessation of taxes wherever and whenever possible.
Taxes should be taken in the context of what they actually are: redistributive investments in our national economic and social infrastructure. Without taxes, who pays for the roads, schools, national defense (which oddly finds a disproportional amount of support from those espousing low-low taxes), and health care? Each individual? What segment of highway do you want to pay for? And what happens when Joe Jobless can’t pay for the on-ramp?
We have to pay to play (to quote my other blog’s entry for yesterday). And while there are certainly many areas where individualism makes sense (would you want to pay a national go-to-the-movies tax so that everyone would have the ability to see a movie once a month?) I think there are a lot of areas that have been successfully incorporated into national policy in other countries from which we in the U.S. could learn.
So the next time you groan when you have to pay your taxes, just remember: “taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”
Until next time, bonnes pensées.