Taxed Enough Already?

I have had the audacity to suggest that we need to change our mind-set about paying taxes. We lump taxes together with death as the two things we dread and can be certain of. But I suggested that we think of taxes as a way of helping our neighbors who may be in need and improving our schools which are failing to get the job done. We pay fewer taxes than most of the people in the “developed” countries and our schools are near the bottom of that group of countries as well. There may be a connection.

In reflecting on this issue, I came across an article in the British paper The Guardian in which the author suggested that Brits — who also dread taxes — think about Sweden where the attitude toward taxes is downright positive. In a recent poll, it was revealed that a growing number of Swedes are pleased to pay taxes because they feel their tax money does so much good. As the article went on to explain:

One way to examine the issue is to compare state help provided by the British government to one which traditionally charges much higher taxes: Sweden. Swedes support the second-highest tax burden in the world – after Denmark’s – with an average of 48.2 per cent of GDP going to taxes. Yet Sweden, along with equally high-taxing Denmark and Norway, tops almost every international barometer of successful societies.

Swedes’ personal income tax can be as little as 29 per cent of their pay, but most people (anyone earning over £32,000) will pay between 49 and 60 per cent through a combination of local government and state income tax.

And yet, the Swedes are happy, the article goes on to explain. What angers them is people who won’t pay their taxes and therefore fail to support national programs that help make the country strong, their kids smarter, their economy healthier, and the people well off.

The key here is twofold: First, the positive attitude of the Swedes is predicated on the good the tax money results in: better schools, free lunches for the kids, excellent teachers, and fewer people in poverty. Secondly, the Swedes don’t spend 60% of their tax revenue on the military. They are not supporting armed forces around the world that are presumably keeping us safe from our enemies. Let’s reflect on these points one at a time.

To take the first point first, the common perception in this country is that much of our tax money is wasted on the poor who are all crackheads and busily making one another pregnant with unwanted children. I have written to this point as it is a misconception that is widely accepted among so many Americans who pay taxes in the 10-35% range and who really would rather hang on to all their money and spend it on themselves. But there would certainly have to be some housecleaning and a good deal more accountability before enough people in this country became convinced that their money is being well spent on those in need, on improving the schools, and helping to save the planet from our mindless abuse. There is much good being done already, but more needs to be done and people need reassurance that their money is being well spent.

But I must say the second point above is the sticking point for me. We spend an inordinate amount of money on the military, thereby increasing profits among the multinational corporations who help them wage war. It’s not clear why we need such a gargantuan military presence and I sometimes wonder if it is the military presence itself that creates fear in others and results in them becoming our enemies in the first place. In other words, we are scaring the hell out of everyone else on the planet with our armed presence around the world and that may be what makes them take up arms against us — which in turn makes it necessary for us to increase military spending to protect ourselves against our enemies. It may indeed be a vicious circle. If we are not in fact a bellicose nation, we appear to be so. Perhaps if we presented a friendlier face to the rest of the world the army and navy could “stand down,” as they say in military parlance.

In any event, there are at least two obstacles to the citizens of this nation adopting a more positive attitude toward paying taxes, both of which are based on fear (and possible misconceptions) and neither of which contributes to a healthier and happier world.

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14 thoughts on “Taxed Enough Already?

  1. Your comments on the military are right on. Bush proclaimed our invading soldiers would be welcomed, seen as the key to freedom. We all know how that worked out. Rome fell from the overwhelming expense of maintaining a world-wide military. We no longer can afford to be the worlds police force.

    Great post

    • I note that Ron Paul’s son recently recommended that the Pentagon be audited. He intends to say that at the Republican Convention. I wonder how that will go over!!?? It’s a great idea but it will never get off the ground with that crowd.

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      • So true, and at times I glimpse Ugly Americans in my travels; they breeze through an area while on vacation, blow their cigarette smoke in others’ faces, poke fun at the way a local dresses (plaids and stripes or cut offs and rubber boots or a rolled-up shirt exposing a pot belly) and I understand why the world gets a bad taste of things gringo.

        As I told Ernie Lefever years ago, “Some of us need to stay behind for damage control.”

        Z

  2. Excellent points all!! I too have never understood why we need to police the entire world. I agree with your assessment about the military and profits though I’ve never thought of it quite like that. It’s what Eisenhower warned us about yes? I too want to live in Europe 🙂

    • I do think it is what Ike warned us about. Very prescient. The corporations and the military are bound together by special interest and huge profits. This may be why we don’t seem to disengage from war altogether — there’s a great deal of money involved.

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  3. I got my “advance notice” for the Ca. fire Prevention Fee (fee. ha ha ha ha ha) for owning, which I actually don’t do, as the bank owns it, for the lovely BS fire preventions services in rural areas.
    I have two houses in two parts of California, in which I owe more than they’re worth. I’m wondering if the bank should pay instead. My houses don’t belong to me, I just pay the bill.
    Normally, I’m okay with paying some taxes. I just don’t like where our money goes. If I were younger, I’d leave the USA.

    • As I say, we need accountability and the assurance that our tax money is doing good and not going to waste. Thanks for the comment!

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  4. Hugh, I was away some I am catching up on your posts. This is very good as usual. Sweden has a “greater good” mentality that is refreshing, versus the “me first” American one. There was much lacking in the GOP platform and convention, but I am looking at a summary of the key elements of the GOP platform and do not find education noted. I am sure I could find reference to it buried within the detail, but guns, abortion and marriage made the summary, yet education is one of our biggest issues and did not. To me that speaks volumes. Just an Old Fart’s opinions.

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