A short while back a friend of mine who is of libertarian mind questioned me on my being comfortable with paying taxes. He posed two questions that are commonly seen digs to try to undermine those of us who feel that taxing high earners and those with high wealth is a good thing:
- Did you pay extra taxes back when George W. Bush cut taxes?
- Do you think the government knows how to spend your money better than you do?
Of course, both of these basically assert that once I’ve made the obvious conclusions in agreement with his position (no to both) that my overall position is made into a house of cards and comes crashing down. I removed the thread from Facebook because I didn’t have the time or inclination to deal with it then and there and I hate back and forth arguing on FB. That’s an error I intend to set straight in this posting.
To the first question that suggests that if I feel taxes are a good thing why not pay extra, I dispense with such a weird suggestion by saying: I’m comfortable paying what the government mandates, but no more because I also have things I need to do with my money and I’d like to keep it for that (games!). The natural response to that is: Well, then, why not keep even more, why not ask for lower taxes? Now we get into the complexities of the issues beyond simple discussion of more or less money in my pocket or the government’s. The government is providing a variety of services that I feel are valuable, therefore I’m willing to pay for them. If the government provides services that are beyond what I’m comfortable with, then it is my job to communicate that to my representatives in government. Note, for me it’s not about the money I pay that bothers me, it is about the services and if I think that I’m getting value for money. I’ll talk about the various services below. In that sense, it’s no different from paying for clothing. If I feel I’m getting value for my money in what I buy for clothing, then there is no issue to resolve. If I’m not getting value for my money, then there is an issue to resolve and I can do that by shopping elsewhere. Unfortunately, we can’t shop for the government we want quite so simply. Our influence is more akin to telling the manager that their store is selling merchandise that I consider overpriced and that I’d like that adjusted, or else I will fire him at the ballot box.
To the second question that suggests that I am a better steward of my money, I say it depends on what I see that needs to be done. For some things, I’m the better steward of my money, for others the government is the better steward. Indeed, based on the above argument, I’m basically making a decision that the best value for some of my money is to pay for the government to handle some things I consider important. The government is clearly better at setting up armies to defend our nation, create road networks, manage supply of water and riding us of sewage, and so forth for the obvious stuff. Getting into less obvious, things we tend to argue over, is social services. Is the government better at retirement savings? To a certain extent, yes. Social Security is solvent indefinitely, as long as those in Congress don’t steal from that pot (as they’ve been doing for decades). Is the government better at distributing assistance for the needy? Certainly, I think. Charities are nice and I give to a few that I’ve carefully researched. But, charities are also rife with abuse, having managers enriching themselves; I think that is immoral. Around the world, there is a plethora of evidence that governments are much more effective and efficient in delivery of health care compared to the USA’s insurance industry. I’d definitely be willing to pay substantially more taxes for the USA to have a nationalized single payer health system such as seen in nearly all the rest of the industrialized world. The reason is that I’m absolutely certain that I’d actually have more money in my pocket at the end of the day because I would not any longer be paying for health insurance, nor would my employer. That line item in my paycheck would be changed from going to an insurance company to going to the government, and I have no doubt it would be less money in the end.
So, it’s about if I feel I’m getting value for my money, for both questions. To a certain extent, it gets down to values about the world I want to live in. I loath the idea of poor persons being left to starve with no hope of help to get a leg up. I loath the idea of persons who are disabled left to beg with no hope of living with a modicum of dignity. My sense of morality is that if we are a nation that is truly civilized, we take care of our weakest persons as if they were our own children, or own parents, our own spouses. That’s why I’m fine with paying taxes. The value I get for my money is civilization.