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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Death and Taxes

My mom used to say (over and over) “there’s nothing certain but death and taxes.” OK I get it. But apparently other people’s moms didn’t tell them that. Growing numbers of people in this nation want to stop taxation altogether. “Taxed Enough Already” says the group, the so-called Tea Party. And whether or not one takes the extreme view, it is certainly the case that a great many people in this country (most?) want taxes to be reduced and social programs cut to the bone. Though most I have spoken with and read insist that the bone has already been exposed, this is not adequate for those determined to cut even deeper.

The truth of the matter, has been explained by my fellow blogger “musingsofanoldfart” — a former Republican who woke up to the lies that are being broadcast by that political party (and, yes, there are lies being broadcast by the Democrats as well. It’s the name of the game these days: tell them what they want to hear and don’t worry if it isn’t true). “Musings” tells us that

According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, who has measured overall taxes as a percent of GDP in 34 countries for over forty-five years, the US is one of the least taxed countries in the world. Of these 34 countries, the US ranks 32nd in terms of most taxes. Our average tax rate pf 24.1% of GDP in 2009 is almost 10%of GDP lower than the average of these 34 countries of 33.8%. When  our budget was last balanced in 2000, the year before Bush took office, our rate was still much less than the average. We also are at our lowest tax rates in over 50 years in the US. The truth is any politician can get elected saying he or she will lower taxes, yet we need sober discussions now regarding raising taxes as well as cutting spending as recommended by the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan.

It’s hard to accept that we are taxed lower than almost every other developed country because it is being drummed into our heads daily by the Tea-Partiers and their friends that our taxes are too high and need to be cut — or at least held to their present level. Why? To save each of us a few dollars every year. Are we really that selfish? Further cutting social programs that help those in need — no matter how many abuses of social programs the nay-sayers can point to — would suggest that we are a wealthy country that ignores its own citizens in need. As those in need become more numerous and more genuinely needy we begin to take on aspects of a third-world country. I cannot believe that people really want that. It is one thing to have RVs and second homes in the Berkshires; it is another to have enough money to put food on the table or have adequate health care. We are not talking about “standard of living” here, we are talking about life or death.

This country was founded on the principle that government exists for “the common good” — not the good of the 1% or the corporations that make them wealthy, or the fools who mouth platitudes about cutting taxes. All of us should want adequate health care and the knowledge that the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink are safe. Even those who have no children should want this country to have sound educational system that will turn out intelligent and informed citizens. I remember having a discussion with an elderly single women who had no children who thought she should not have to support education with her tax money. That is bullocks! We all need to support education — and welfare; and health programs, the whole ball of wax. We need it in order to be a healthy country that continues to care about “the common good” and does not place selfish interests (like saving a few tax dollars) above the interests of the whole.