Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Thursday, April 15, 2004  

What Your Tax Dollars Buy

On this great national day of loathing, the Ides of April, it bears considering what Americans get for their taxes. It's a time-honored tradition to gripe about taxes, but something has fundamentally changed since the Reagan revolution (and especially since the Norquist revolt). What was before a slightly unpleasant but necessary task, akin to eating Brussels sprouts, has now taken on the mantle of some unbearable suppression. Performing one's civic duty to fund the government is now something like paying the English tax on your tea. Thanks to folks like Norquist, 17% of Americans now believe it's ethical to cheat on your taxes--up from 11% in 1999.

How did we get here? Thanks to starve-the-beast conservatives like Grover Norquist ("My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub"). In a two-step process, these radicals first demonized "big government," using only stories of waste and corruption, leavened with plenty of lies and misleading facts. (Specific programs have constituencies, so you stay away from those--unless it's the Cadillac welfare queens--and demonize a vague concept like "government," which has no constituency.) Having associated corruption and government in the minds of voters, it was a short trip to convincing them that they could better spend their own dollars. Viola!--the tax revolt was on.

So let's review what our tax dollars buy--those corrupt "entitlements"--and see if they're really something we're keen to starve.

Schools and teachers to educate our children. Police, paramedics, and firefighters to protect us in our cities and homes. Armed services, intelligence agencies, and civilian responders to protect our nation. Roads and highways, bridges, tunnels, dikes, dams, and canals. Programs to help the vulnerable: social workers to protect abused children, housing, job training, mental health services, unemployment benefits, health care; and to our non-income-earning elderly, social security and Medicare. Regulation to keep our skies and water clean, to ensure business dealings aren't corrupt, to test our medicine to ensure it is safe. The list could go on and on.

But the benefit of the taxes we pay actually go to something far rarer and more valuable, something not so easily derided as an "entitlement": the health of our nation. The United States, even after 3 years of oligarchal rule, remains a relative land of opportunity. Our taxes go to a government that provides fantastic stability and economic health. Why is a quarter of our wealth held in foreign hands? Because the US is still the biggest, safest bet in the world.

When people decide to open a business in the US, they don't worry that they'll fail because a government official's palm wasn't properly greased, or because they were bombed, or because the currency collapsed, or because there was a military coup. They know that the infrastructure in the US will support their material needs (roads for their trucks, say) and their financial needs (banks that don't vanish in the night).

How much of each of our own independent wealth comes from this stability alone? Go to Mexico and find your professional counterpart. Does s/he live as well as you? Have the same opportunities as you? Why do you think s/he doesn't? How much would you pay to keep the advantages living in America provide? Throw on the benefit of the government programs, and it's pretty hard to argue that we're getting fleeced.

Our taxes support something far more important than any single program--they support the lifestyles and values we hold dear. Folks like Grover Norquist hope to starve that. He wants to drown it in a bathtub. No doubt he regards starving the government as truly American and patriotic. You be the judge.

posted by Jeff | 9:17 AM |
Blogroll and Links