There’s a Tea Party / Republican / Faux News talking point that all taxes are waste, that the government is incompetent, and all politicians are corrupt. If all politicians are corrupt, and you’re a politician, aren’t you saying “I’m Corrupt?” But beyond that …
Taxes fund Medicare and Medicaid so the poor and the elderly can see a physician and get treatment when they are sick. Taxes fund education for our children and our neighbors children so they can grow up to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, accountants, teachers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, builders, actors, etc., so we can buy things that work properly, travel safely, enjoy life, so we can, in a word, thrive. Taxes fund police, fire-fighting, defense, judicial and other services so we can be secure in our homes and our persons, so the innocent do not go to prison, so the guilty pay their debts to society, and so we, when we do foolish things, can compensate those we accidentally harm.
Taxes fund the Department of Defense, DoD, the National Security Agency, NSA, the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, and other arms of our armed forces, so we can be secure in our homes, so terrorists like Osama bin Laden can be brought to justice or executed. Taxes purchased products from commercial enterprises such as Colt, Remington, and Springfield in the 19th Century and Boeing, Honeywell, Raethon, and United Technologies in the 20th Century. Taxes allowed those companies to build things we need for our defense and for civilian life.
Taxes, allocated to the DoD Advanced Projects Research Agency, DARPA, created the Internet.
Taxes fund the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, so the airplanes in which we fly are maintained in a safe condition, so their flight paths are proper and coordinated, and so the airports into and out from which we fly are safe and secure.
Taxes fund the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, so nuclear power plants, such as the Fort Calhoun, Nebraska plant, built on the western banks of the Missouri River and currently in the middle of the river, may be operated safely, or shut down in times of emergency when they can not be operated safely, even tho the owners are losing about $1 million per day because the plant is not operating.
Taxes fund the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, so criminals who operate across state lines can be investigated, apprehended, and brought to justice.
Taxes fund local police agencies so people can not put guns to other people’s heads, say “Your money or your life,” and get away with it.
Taxes fund independent prosecutors because, in the United States of America, Presidents, Governors and Judges are not above the law.
Taxes fund the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, so people can not dump toxic by products of commercial and industrial operations in our streams, rivers, lakes, oceans, forests, fields and prairies, in our backyards, and say “hey, I’m just trying to make a buck, and this stuff isn’t that harmful, it’s only mildly toxic or slightly radioactive. I can pay a guy with a PhD to say it’s safe.”
Is there waste? Sadly, yes. Our government, “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” is run by people. People who can make mistakes. People who can be mislead. But People who can we build things like the Apollo spacecraft that allowed men to walk on the moon, and brought them back safely; that enabled a few men to take a few small steps that enabled mankind to take a giant leap.
Bill and Melinda Gates were able to create the Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett were able to create the Hewlett Foundation, the Carnegies were able to create the Carnegie Endowment and Carnegie Hall, the Rockefellers created Rockefeller University because people valued the goods and services they created or provided. Wealth doesn’t exist in a vacuum. An ounce of gold is only worth $1600 because someone is willing to pay $1600 for it. Apple, Inc. sells its widgets because people buy them.
Why should Paris Hilton pay taxes? She doesn’t need to work for her daily bread. Conrad Hilton, her great-grandfather, worked hard and built a great company. Her grandfather and parents managed things such that she doesn’t have to work. Every night someone stays in a Hilton hotel, every meal, every drink someone buys in a Hilton restaurant, bar or cafe puts money in Paris Hilton’s pocket. Yet Ms. Hilton has to eat, drink, and breathe. She travels from place to place. If she were to get sick she would need medical care. If she was injured she would seek redress in the courts. These are the services provided by society.
Why should Warren Buffett pay taxes? He makes money from his investments in companies including Coca Cola, Geico, See’s Candies, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. These make money providing or transporting goods and services people need or want. He is not sitting alone on a mountain, self-sufficient and self-contained. He is sitting in an office working with other people, relying on people to buy the products his companies sell. Taxes allow society to function.
And like anyone else, if Ms. Hilton or Mr. Buffett were to get sick, they might legitimately want to know where their doctors went to medical school, but they ought not be concerned with whether or not their doctors grew up poor, wealthy, or somewhere in the middle; whether they went to public school or private school.
The same holds for Bill and Melinda Gates, William and Flora Hewlett, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, their children, and each of the 307 million Americans, wealthy or not. Each of the 3.4 billion other humans on our planet, whether English, German, French, Indian, or Chinese, whether Israeli or Palestinian, or African, Asian, Australian, European, North, South, or Central American wants the same for their children. Some have schools, hospitals, and courts. Others wish for and pray for them.
In America, we are all equal under the eyes of the law. We can all go to school, study what we choose, work in a field of our choosing, assuming, of course, that there are jobs and opportunities. We can serve in the defense of the country, read what we choose, and speak our minds. Our government is not an arbitrary and capricious. The President holds office via an election, not via a military coup, an accident of birth, an act of “God” or the action some arcane, unknowable and unfathomable supernatural entity. The tax code is complex but uniform. If you make $x you pay $y, regardless of your religious beliefs or lack thereof, regardless of the color of your skin, who you love, or the country or nation you or your forebears left.
This is the reason people migrated from Tzarist, Soviet and post-Soviet Russia to the United States, why people came here from Europe, India, China, contemporary Africa, South America. If you are talented, and if you work hard, then you might get lucky, you might be able to make your own luck. You can educate your children and that they might do well. hey might write an album like Springsteen’s “Greetings From Asbury Park,” or my own “It’s Rainin’ Outside the Cave,” make a film like “Star Wars,” write software like MS Basic, Lotus, or OS X.
This is the real American dream.
This is why we pay taxes, why we all must shoulder our fair share.
As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are what we pay for civilization.”