A Question of Taxes

A couple of days ago, my class preparation required that I review an early American time-period that included both Shays Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. Both–as those of you familiar with this particular time period will recall–were uprisings sparked by resistance to taxes.

Some things really never change.

I am not sufficiently familiar with citizens’ attitudes in other countries to be certain of this, but it certainly seems that this characteristic American anti-tax animus is unique; a piece¬†of a none-too-attractive “American exceptionalism.” (When was the last time you saw Norwegians mounting a tax protest?) ¬†Americans are allergic to taxes, no matter how reasonable, no matter how necessary.

There are a couple of problems with this deeply-ingrained resentment. The first and most obvious is that it is unrealistic–not to mention unseemly–to demand services for which we are unwilling to pay. Someone once noted that taxes are the dues we pay for civilization, and I think that’s right. But the same Americans who would never dream of joining a country club and refusing to pay the dues needed to maintain the golf course and hire the help evidently have a very different reaction to assessments for membership in the polity. (Much of that animus seems based upon distaste for their fellow “members”–perhaps the problem is that we are fellow-denizens of a “club” they wouldn’t have chosen..?)

The second problem with the “pox on all taxes” attitude is that it focuses attention on the wrong issues. Governments require revenue in order to provide services; that’s a given. The questions we really need to ask are procedural: what is the best way to raise the dollars needed? Is the tax system fair and equitable? Does it inadvertently encourage unwanted behaviors (outsourcing of jobs, or shielding of assets in off-shore accounts) or discourage desirable ones? Are units of government operating efficiently?

It’s hard to ask those questions–let alone debate the answers–when people are whining about “redistribution,” and complaining about paying their share.


  1. Thanks. It seems to me that when Ronny Ray Gun declared war first on the government and then on working people, the whole feeling about our relationship to our country came off the rails for the right wing. They have preached on their poisonous talk radio for 30 years that our government is our enemy. They speak of “Starve the Beast”. They want the Federal government out of their way so they can do whatever they wish. Dirty coal, Dirty water, dangerous products, fake medical products. All to be had if only they can get that awful federal government out of their way. Taxes are a part of that too. If your government is your enemy, why would you want to help fund it? They have done a masterful job of feeding BS to working guys for 2 generations now. It may take a long time to educate them that it is corporate big wigs that are the greater problem, not their government.
    AND: Can we somehow close “K” Street so the big money guys (who HATE Washington) can quit buying it from the inside?

  2. It is a given that no one likes paying taxes; I don’t believe the loudest complainers really understand the need for taxes or how they are being used because we often learn after the fact what has been done with tax dollars. Is it legal to outsource tax dollars to private business who are in business to make money? Most of what I saw, and dealt with, under the Goldsmith administration was wasteful and questionable regarding private businesses hired. There was also frequent duplicaction of job positions and unnecessary positions created. Transparency is sorely lacking when it comes to government at all levels spending our tax dollars; our needs vs elected official’s decisions where to put tax dollars are too often in conflict. But; we never know exactly “who” we elected to make these decisions till too late. Public personna and actual abilities are getting further and further apart in our elections.

  3. I want gov’t to be efficient; but I understand that without taxes there would be no police dept, fire dept, schools, roads, water, etc…etc…

    I laughed when Franklin Twnshp folks decided to not vote on a property tax increase (I read the typical homeowner would have their taxes increased to $50/yr) and the following year the school district responded by not providing transportation. It was costing families more money in gas and was a major inconvience and the ones you saw interviewed were all indignant and clearly didn’t understand the gravity of their decision at the voting booth. You made a decision and this was the raminifications of your decision.
    One of the problems is the lack of trust on all fronts towards the ‘State’ and its individuals. The other is general public not understanding taxes. Not every cent goes to an overpriced hammer.

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