Monday, October 27, 2003


In many places, "taxes" is a four-letter word. Especially in places where they are used to find libarys and skools.

In a neighboring community, the Republican town supervisor is about to be ousted because he is not as rabidly anti-tax as his Republican challenger. This despite a booming town economy and overflowing sales tax coffers. The incumbent also has the audacity to, very occassionally, not write blank checks to developers.

Have you ever noticed how the words "taxes" or "taxpayer" are employed as an emotion-triggering propaganda cues? Whenever someone uses the word "taxpayer," you know you are supposed to be outraged about something.

You might hear someone say, "We Americans are proud to support our troops." But on another topic, it might be, "We taxpayers shouldn't subsidize those people who choose to be unemployed."

I have a long essay planned in the back of my mind which I will entitle "The Republic of Consumers." Americans consider themselves first and foremost taxpayers, whereas the French, for example, consider themselves first and foremost citizens. Other countries have had revolutions to overthrow oppressive oligarchies. The American Revolution was a middle-class tax revolt. This paradigm is reflected in the nature of public discourse in those countries.

This is the mentality that subordinates the greater good to the individual good. This is why many Americans hate taxes for its own sake.

Sure, no one actually likes paying taxes. It's losing money that we'd otherwise get in our paychecks. But, the fallacy is viewing out of context. Yes, we pay taxes. But we also get services for those taxes. Debating about which services should be funded by public money is a legitimate question. But removing that context and simply saying "taxes are bad," that is disingenuous. It's like doing a cost-benefit analysis while totally omitting the benefit half.

I've read tens of thousands of opinion columns, editorials and letters to the editor. Hundreds have bemoaned taxes. Candidates and parties base campaigns on lowering taxes.

But of those thousands of pieces I've read, no one's ever complained that their drinking water is too safe. No one's ever cried that their roads are too smooth, that crime is too low or that the fire department responds to blazes too quickly.

In this case, it's the people who are talking out of both sides of their mouthes. In 1995, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich made the mistake of taking the voters at their word. The GOP ran a campaign based on less government. The people voted for them. The shock occured when Gingrich actually implemented that plan. He shut down the government in his budget dispute with President Clinton. He figured that since his party was elected based on reducing government, shutting it down wouldn't be a big deal.

Gingrich learned a painful (for him) lesson. Americans hate government in theory, but not in practice. They hate "the guys in Washington" but their own guy gets re-elected 90% of the time or more. They hate "pork" so long as it's other people's programs, not their own. They hate taxes but love the programs that are provided with those taxes.

Everyone wants a free lunch, but in the real world, the money always has to come from somewhere.

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