Connecting the Dots

It’s time to say goodby and good riddance to the month of April–the “cruelest” month, presumably because federal taxes are due. And let’s face it, no one likes taxes.

And every year,  the avalanche of anti-tax articles is predictable as April showers.

Over at The New Republic, Jonathan Cohn makes an important point: people resent paying taxes when they don’t see what that money is buying. I’ve made that same argument in the local context, and it is actually easier to see what our local money buys: police and fire protection, garbage collection, parks, schools and the like. Those local public goods are more visible than the goods our federal taxes purchase.

That payroll tax taken out of everybody’s check? It’s buying you Medicare and Social Security, which means a more secure retirement free of crippling medical bills. Your federal income tax? Its effects are a lot more diffuse. But chances are pretty good that you’ve already used some infrastructure today—whether it was a road or railway you took to work, or maybe the information technology connections you’re using to read this article. Federal, state, and local taxes helped pay for that. Is your water and air clean? Are you safe from threats, domestic and foreign? Then you’re getting something valuable from the Environment Protection Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Defense. Your tax dollars paid for those, too.

Sometimes, of course, your tax dollars pay for supports and services you won’t use. And you might resent that. But even taxes that pay for someone else’s benefits can benefit you. Why does the U.S. not have the massive underclass that characterizes many third-world countries—or the incipient danger of violent upheaval that accompanies it? The safety net your taxes purchased, tattered as it is, buys a degree of social harmony, too.

We can legitimately argue about lawmakers’ priorities. We can–and should–monitor government at all levels to insure that its operations are businesslike and efficient. We can debate whether government should do some things at all.

But while we are griping and doing everything we can to reduce our bills, we should take note of Cohn’s admonition, and remember that our tax dollars buy a lot of things that most of us agree–however grudgingly– make our lives safer and better. Things we would miss.

In the private sector, we acknowledge the truth of the old adage: you get what you pay for. Somehow, we ignore that homely truth when it comes to taxes.


  1. I would rather pay a few more dollars in taxes to fix the roads and save some lives rather than the $400 I spent to fix my car after hitting a pot hole.

  2. I have no problem paying taxes to support essential services, but I do have a problem paying for things like foreign wars we shouldn’t be involved in, support of corporations, foreign aid to governments that don’t really need it, prohibition of Marijuana and the militarization of police and the subjugation of our rights. And there are many, many more things government wastes our money on. I don’t object to paying taxes, but I do object in how the money is being used.

  3. I have no problem with Neal’s point–I agree with it. There’s a huge difference between saying we should spend money on X but not Y, and “taxes are theft.” Worse, the latter approach keeps us from focusing on the debate we SHOULD be having about what government should and should not do.

  4. The GOP in this state has such a short attenton span; and it is constantly being interrupted with sports scores.

  5. What Neal said and…… I don’t want my taxes going for stupid stuff like cricket fields or city government propped up by utility company money.

  6. I also agree with Neal… We cannot forget that the more taxes we pay the more power the idiots in Washington have! The more taxes we pay, the less cash we have to create jobs and invest in our futures!
    I take exception to your point that my taxes are paying for Medicare and Social Security. These two money makers (for the government) will be empty by the time we need them. We’d be better off keeping that cash and planning for our own retirement. Don’t kid yourself, Medicare only pays for about 30% of any health related bill. YOU will be responsible for the other 70%. So why does the government take so much of my money in the name of Medicare and social Security??????? So they can blow it on things none of us with have a brain would even consider spending it on.

  7. A group of politicians have made a successful career out of demonizing taxes – Dan Coats, Todd Rokita and others. They characterize any expenditure as a government waste and share their “vision” freely with a naive and willing public. The problem with this accounting mentality in government (I think started by Ronald Reagan) is they recognize the cost of everything, but the value of nothing and and can’t distinguish between spending and investing. I’ll give it 5 years before the roads, bridges, sewers and other infrastructure is unusable and the people who created the problem will find a new way of demonizing government spending. Or will be busy selling the infrastructure to private interests to gain that all-important political cover – ala Citizens.

  8. I too agree with Neal’s comment. I don’t mind paying taxes but I only want to pay the taxes we actually need and nothing more. The Taxes we pay to finance wars are in my opinion all about making money for giant global corporations and the killing or seriously injuring our younger generations. I have no problem with taxes funding our public schools, infrastructure, first responders, and needed public employees. I don’t want my taxes being used for tax abatements, tax increment financing and other tax incentives to bribe businesses into moving from one town, county or state to another. I feel this is unconstitutional and violates the Commerce Clause.

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