Well, today’s the day for paying your taxes. Even if you apply for an automatic extension, you’ve got to estimate how much you owe and pay that.
I’ve never had occasion to estimate the government owed me, and it wouldn’t help anyway, since they aren’t going to take my word for it and send me money. It’s always a one way street for those of us who usually postpone to the last minute.
But, apparently like everyone else in America, I have a raft of thoughts on taxes that rarely occupy my mind save at this time of year-at least not the top of my mind. One is related to a bigger thought that often does occupy my mind: Why are Americans so obsessed with money?
America is one of the richest countries in the world. Just by living here each of us is wealthier than something like 95% of the people in the world. About half of the those alive today survive on incomes below their own governments’ poverty rate. The other 45% out of the 95% is my estimate (admittedly a wild speculation) of the relative standing of our middle and lower classes compared to other countries.
If you’ve ever traveled to a third world country, you’ve had the opportunity to see what I mean by that: The claim of universal American wealth amounts to the observation that a young person here can always survive without an income by virtue of dumpster diving, not to mention the many illegal means of obtaining cash from the mass of people who have it on hand. The lack of competition in that arena alone confirms it. Competition, by its very nature, follows from need. Lack of it implies lack of need.
Of course, it may well be illegal to dumpster dive, too. I’ve never checked that out because my riches have, until growing old, always made serious consideration of “diving” unnecessary. Still are, in fact, although I’m really only as secure as my pension.
The point is that there’s virtually always a way to survive in America. Believe me, that makes us fortunate. It’s largely my definition of “being rich.”
But famine, in the modern world, is never hard to imagine suddenly appearing on your doorstep, so our relative standing in the world is of little significance to the discussion of taxes. I’m only mentioning it because of the almost universal disdain for taxation in America.
If government is spending money foolishly, the ire of the public ought to be, it seems to me, directed at the foolishness, not at being asked to pay for it. We have a proud, healthy, and just, tradition in this country of paying our way. If government spends money, we, being the constituents-the owners of a democratic institution-should be paying for it. That ought not even be a question.
And for most people I doubt it is. But people are rarely so clear headed as to be able to look beyond their frustration of the moment to see what it is that truly irritates them.
In particular, the role of government is rarely truly analyzed by modern Americans. Therefore we have little understanding of what constitutes foolish spending, governmental subsidy, or fairness in distributing the cost.
Or, as may also be the case, we see only the examples of foolish spending, unwise subsidy, and unreasonable distribution of cost, concluding that government rarely, if ever, serves the purposes of the vast majority of the constituents. We then jump to the conclusion that government serves little or no function for the average citizen and, therefore shouldn’t be getting much, or perhaps
any, of our money on this, or any other, day.
Our jumping to that conclusion is exactly what the special interests are counting on-and have been able to count on for decades now. As long as the public holds that attitude, the monied classes will continue to manipulate government through lobbyists and campaign contributions to achieve their most prized end: a government that collects money from the poorer and less powerful only to redistribute it to the wealthy trough spending, subsidy, and unfairness.
The problem is not taxation without representation. It’s taxation without the taxpayers independently assessing how the taxation is conducted and how the money collected is spent. It is, in a word, inattention from the public.
Unfortunately, too many of those who do pay attention are deceived by their own selections as to whom they listen to. The whole issue of who we find to be credible, and why, has to precede analysis of why we have such good reason to hold a low opinion of government.
In a democracy, after all, we are the government. If we’re not happy with it, shouldn’t we reexamine who we find credible and why?
That’s a topic I plan to revisit in future blogs.