Taxed Too Much, Are You?

Given the fact that I have pretty much said all I have to say about most topics and some of my former posts aren’t half bad, I repost here one I wrote early on as it still appears to be relevant.

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 need to 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 Guardianin 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 happy.

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 the world safe for democracy. 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 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 build up their armaments. 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.


12 thoughts on “Taxed Too Much, Are You?

  1. Hugh, your last paragraph speaks volumes. We need to use facts and sound projections. They exist, but are discredited if they do not support a fear-based campaign point. They are on the mark when they do.

    I have mentioned this before, but a specific problem is Social Security running out of money. There is an exercise that can be done with a rotary group, book club, high school or college class sponsored by a group called The Concord Coalition and others. You can arm a group in a table with about twenty-five partial solutions of increasing revenue or reducing expenses and ask them to solve the problem. By the end of an hour, these tables of regular people can solve a future Social Security problem.

    Your point on defense spending is a good one. We spend far too much time on stuff that matters so little to the budget. These folks could be put in a room over a few afternoons and they could come up with a plan. et, nothing would happen. The Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee did not go far enough, but even they could not get some thing passed.


  2. Perhaps the Swedes have learned the lesson that money is not the key to happiness. I love their attitude, and really like what their tax dollars go to. I’m with you on our bloated military budget … and most lawmakers seem to be in favour of cutting the budget on education, health, social programs, science, etc., before they will even talk about cutting the military budget. And you are so right about our military presence where it is not always welcome being at least partly the cause of some of our own problems. We should clean our own house before trying to clean others’. Good post!

  3. Dr. Curtler,

    Again, an interesting post.

    Having grown up, as we all do, hearing people complain about taxes, I was surprised to learn that the United States has among the highest tax-compliant collection of citizens in the world.

    The exception appears to be among those who are the wealthiest who not only desire to shield their wealth from taxes, but who have many resources to do so and few ethical standards to prevent them from so doing.

    Indeed, one of the problematic elements of ANY prospective policy of increasing taxes on the wealthy in this country (or any other) is the near certainty that the wealthy will simply hide their riches and, thereby, evade taxation.

    For the wealthy, the fairest tax rate for them is zero. Taxes are for the little people to pay.

    Patriots every one of them, I am sure.

    Regards and respects,

    Jerry Stark

    • Every one, no doubt. The irony (of which I am sure you are aware) is that this country was never as fiscally sound as it was after WW II when the wealthy paid a fair share of their wealth in taxes. But they are very clever dodgers and have learned all the tricks!

      • Indeed, after WWII the greatest economic growth of the modern world was accompanied by some of the highest taxes on wealth and income.

        It was also a period of the greatest increase in the size and median income of the middle class in this country.

        For the biblically-minded, we recall 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows”

        This still rings true today.

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