The Philosophy of Taxes

It’s April. Tax month.

Americans are notoriously anti-tax. (In fact, “tax” may be the only four-letter word that only has three letters).  I’m no different; it’s  April, and I’ve  reluctantly remitted what I owed, while thinking about all the other things I could do with those dollars. But I also know  that reaction is intellectually indefensible, because taxes pay for the kind of world rational humans want to inhabit.

Taxes are the dues we pay for living in a civilized society.

Those well-to-do people protesting their tax burdens would never treat their country clubs and other membership organizations the way they treat/cheat their governments. (How would the Orange Menace react iff Mar-A-Lago members declined to pay their dues?) Those manicured golf courses need tending. The clubhouse roofs and mechanical systems require maintenance. The properly servile “help” won’t be there to bring you your Scotch and soda if they aren’t being paid. Etc.

The people who presumably understand the need to pay dues adequate to keep their clubs and organizations functioning need to acknowledge that–as members of the polity–they have similar obligations to their country.

I think we all agree that government should be efficient–that our tax dollars shouldn’t pay for (frequently hypothesized) “fraud and waste.” And it’s entirely legitimate to argue about whether we really need this or that government program. Most legislative efforts to ease the tax burdens of wealthy folks, however, are based on justifications that have consistently proved to be unfounded.

A recent article from Governing analyzed the effects of two decades of tax cuts in Ohio.

Tax reform is a politically charged issue, with conservatives saying lower income taxes help drive economic prosperity, and progressives saying tax cuts have functioned as handouts to the rich, while defunding crucial public services.

Despite those stark differences, both right- and left-leaning groups who spoke to said the impact of Ohio’s income tax cuts on the state economy overall throughout the past 20 years has been minimal.

“The theory behind it is that cutting these taxes will spur on extra growth and get extra investment,” said Jonathan Ernest, an assistant professor of economics at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. “You would expect after some number of years to start seeing growth, and we haven’t necessarily seen that.”

Ohio’s experience is not an anomaly, but–as with so many other elements of our highly politicized policy process–evidence has been swamped by ideology.

 We need to see the majority of anti-taxation arguments for what they really are: rejections of the importance–or even the existence– of the common good, and a disinclination to help maintain important social goods accessible to their fellow citizens. (Let’s call that disinclination what it is: selfish. It isn’t “self-interested,” because genuine, long-term self-interest requires the maintenance of a stable, flourishing society–and highly unequal societies are notoriously unstable.) 

Anti-tax Republicans push back against progressives who want to move the U.S. policy in the direction of Scandinavian countries–despite the fact that those countries score far higher on measures of happiness and social cohesion– by warning against “confiscatory” tax rates.

Actually,despite the mythology, Scandanavian taxes aren’t much higher than our own, once we combine Americans’ local, state and federal burdens–and their citizens get much more value for their money, including relief from the enormous costs of higher education and health care.

As the author of the linked article wrote,

US critics say that Swedes pay 56 percent — so the government takes over half of your money. This is not true — 56 percent is the marginal tax rate, i.e. what high earners pay on income over a certain amount in both state and local taxes. Only 15 percent of Swedes pay tax at this rate. It turns out the average Swede pays less than 27 percent of his or her income in direct taxes. As I’ve written elsewhere, my wife and I pay about 22 percent of our US income in taxes. Our Swedish income tax was 31 percent. So, yes, our income taxes in Sweden were higher than in the US, but we still paid less than one-third in tax.

And you get far more for your taxes than you do in the US. In Sweden, college is free and students get a housing stipend….

The 33 million Americans who are still not covered by health insurance don’t have much choice when they get sick, unless you think, “Your money or your life?” is a choice. Paradoxically it turns out the bloated, heavily lobbied, privatized US system spends more tax money ($4,437) per person than Sweden’s socialized health care ($3,184).

Eradicating medical and educational debt would do a lot more to boost America’s economy than adding tax loopholes for the wealthy.


  1. Please watch the entire video. He ends with a practical solution.
    The video is only 2 minutes and 33 seconds and brings into contrast taxes today and taxes today and what we gett for the money.

    Is taxing the middle class and giving tax breaks to the wealthy and businesses good public policy?
    – Requiem for the American Dream – Noam Chomsky

  2. The unending fight by Republicans is simply another fight to add to lowering their taxes by ending the Social Security and Medicare deductions from their paychecks. They get their money returned when they reach SS retirement age, unless they keep raising retirement age to a level that they “age out” by dying. My Social Security check has $148.00 deducted for Medicare before I receive it so I am still paying for what my taxes paid for during my working years; as are millions of retired and/or disabled Americans.

    “Tax reform is a politically charged issue, with conservatives saying lower income taxes help drive economic prosperity,…” That is most assuredly a truth regarding the economical prosperity of the wealthy. The biggest mistake President Obama made during his 8 years of administration was in NOT allowing George W’s lower tax rate on the wealthy end on the date George W set for it to expire. We are still paying, and paying more, for that mistake. When you add in state taxes, Indiana one of the highest rates, the low-and middle-income level is further victimized being left too often with bare-bones level money-in-hand to live on. I am currently waiting for my annual Property Tax Statement; knowing that the ridiculous reassessment on properties in my declining area will be a burden.

    Yes; I received my tax relief letter from the City of Indianapolis regarding my “Property Tax Relief Payment”; no information if this is a one-time-only benefit for property tax burdens which continue year after year. The new assessments are based on the ridiculously overpriced home purchases due to “bidding wars” which resulted in homes selling for far more than the list price, and certainly far more than their worth, when they were put on the market. FOLLOW THE MONEY; this goes back to the inflated rental levels and protected landlords from maintaining properties in safe living conditions. Apparently mortgage payment levels, even at inflated purchasing costs, are lower than rental levels with less chance of increasing amounts. Personally; I am trapped in a paid-for older home requiring constant maintenance and frequent repairs which, on the surface appears to be beneficial. This would be factual if I wasn’t closing in on my 86th birthday on April 27th. My property taxes do not include infrastructure maintenance in my neighborhood or surrounding areas, that seems to end in the higher economy areas.

  3. Rick Smith; thanks for posting the video. While there have been increasing problems through the years defining “democracy”, the majority has lost more in the past 6 years as the minority has gained in wealth and control due to one man who unleashed racism, bigotry and protected violence, on this country and is gaining ground. How has anyone, man or woman, gained the level of control we are watching develop in the House of Representatives in the hands of the few vs. the hands of many. McCarthy agreed to changing House rule regarding the controlling Speaker position to be removed at any time by a House vote. Marjorie Taylor Greene has been appointed Deputy Speaker; a terrifying thought bringing us closer to removing taxes from the wealthy and corporations and putting their money into making more money via deregulation. Just as Hitler deregulated human rights in Germany and the Holocaust Deniers are gaining ground via antisemitism here; the powerful Senate rules from their minority position with only TWO Senators per state regardless of population. Unfair to the nation, the individual states and certainly to the poor TWO Senators from larger, highly populated states. Their final vote on taxes are based on the philosophy of the wealthy which is their foundation.

  4. Rick, anyone quoting Noam Chomsky is a friend of mine!

    Sheila writes, “…their citizens [the socialists] get much more value for their money.”

    That’s because we are an oligarchy. The oligarchy running our state sees society as a business, so they run it as such. They accumulate large balances in the Indy banks called “Rainy Day Funds.”

    However, if you’re running a government, the excess balances are a sign of over-taxation or under-spending. The government isn’t a business. If you skimp on the assets of the collective, you’ll have decay and rot. The Republicans think this is a sign of being “conservative” when it’s a sign of not knowing what they’re doing.

    I mean, seriously, anybody can collect taxes and not spend them. But that’s not doing anyone any favors. It sure isn’t a bragging point.

  5. The freeloaders in the upper reaches of the income distribution tell us that the money they save helps everyone, but there is no evidence for that actually happening. One phrase in the Constitution is “to promote the general welfare,” but the “one-percent” consists of people who are too busy making money to re-invest in other ways to make money to bother to familiarize themselves with the “raison d’etre” of the nation.

  6. Regarding taxes, I’ve believed for years that we truly have taxation without representation. I’m more than willing to pay taxes for infrastructure and public education. I’m not crazy about paying taxes for privatized utilities that I then have to pay exorbitant monthly fees for. I wish I could withhold the tax money that goes toward vouchers, and I sure as hell hate having my tax dollars funding Todd Rokita’s stunts and Mike Braun’s grandstanding. I would love to have my tax dollars supporting universal healthcare and higher education, but no one asks me how I would like my taxes invested—no one in our pathetic excuse of a government cares, especially in Indiana. I’m just a cash cow. Hence, taxation without representation.

  7. It being that season, I was thinking about taxes the other day, and wondering, if everyone got to decide where there money that went to the government was going to go, what would our budget look like? I looked for a survey like this, but the only thing I found was from, and it really didn’t come near to asking the rigth questions. But I think it would be a very interesting survey.

    And I also would like to thank Rick for pointing out this video with Noam Chomsky. Incredible man, and reading his books you would think that he spent his life reading obscure governement reports to find out all kinds of awful things our government is doing that are hiddne in plain site, but hidden like a needle in a haystack.

  8. Sit down some day and add up what we get for our tax dollars. Even without free higher education and health care, it’s a great deal for all Americans.

  9. Government is has a list called “A Day in Your Life” that gives a minute-by-minute account of what government does for each of us. It’s eye-opening. Sorry I don’t know how to share the link.

  10. One of the secrets of the Pax Romano’s success as an administrative tool was that when the Romans had defeated another country they would call the leaders of such prostrated country together and in essence said: “Look, we don’t care about local customs, religion, etc., but there are two things we do care about, to wit: peace and tribute, and if you fail either we will kill you.

    It was rather undemocratic, but it worked, and Rome did not provide the modern amenities to the inhabitants of such countries in return, which explains Roman wealth. Roman engineers (still worshipped today, along with slave labor) did build roads for their military use which doubled for civilian transportation in conquered territories, so there was some return on capital via tribute.

    We have government primarily to do useful and necessary things we cannot do as individuals. I can’t do sewers and am not an architect, but together we can do marvelous and useful things (some too marvelous and useful per AI critics). That requires money, and while I may argue about who and how much and what for, I am in favor of paying my share of the tribute to Rome.

  11. as your taxes,,,” bending at the knee to insurance lobby..” good place for us ol folk to recognize fraud and allow it to i say to my teabagger friends in conversation,,if ya dont like payin taxes,theres plenty of third worlds nations you could move to,
    where ya can crap in a bucket and walk a dirt path to your job..
    i smile whenever i get to say that to them..

  12. this is why billionaires sleep in America.
    they made their money money here, they get to hide it here,they paid someone(whole party) to work for them, they use our infrastructure to procure more, they are secure knowing the working class is doomed to
    become economic slaves under their fascism. they can pay someone to change what suits them. their estate is a result of stealing from the ones who do the work.big buisness taxes are nil because they said so. now they have (muderdochs)dirty shoes from walking on the taxpayer and using the American flag as a door mat..

  13. since tax cuts,
    civil service people who retired,back 40 years ago.then neuts big circus.govs cut taxes, and cut the police,and fire people. now ya get a better educated one civil servent instead of three. theynare, over worked,under paid,their squad car is a amour vehicle to keep arms lenth away from the public they,er,sever? all the police shooting today are a result of a lack of organized public contact. their complaints of disrespect and ongoing neighborhood wars,one of many results of tax cuts. the allowing of citizens to pack a gun,has made police leary of anyone. and feeling a bullet isnt worth what they are paid. whoever designed the new manual of policing in the last 40 years have only provoked more yax cuts (yes boys)and put the civil servents lives at stake.
    tax cuts are for the rich. ask em…

  14. The only video I see here is over an hour in length, but Chomsky is spot-on every time
    I’ve read, or seen him.
    Greed is running the show here, and we are ranked 37th in medical care, across the world!
    The entire supply-side position was known by the Reagan people to be BS, they have admitted to this.
    Those advocating for lower taxes on the wealthy are just echoing Johnny Rocco’s line from “Cape Largo:”
    “Yeah, more! what’s wrong with more?”

  15. Thanks to the inaction of the current administration, children on CHIP will soon lose medical benefits.

    The only mentions of the less affluent by Democrats/liberals is when they need a punching bag wrt Trump. Whether or not the less affluent voted for him or not. That’s why liberals are now seen as phony. I guess Biden doesn’t want tax dollars used for such children.

    The culture War is a class War. The affluent won.

  16. I do remember the day my father came home gleaming that he had to pay corporate taxes. After the Detroit Riots almost put him out of business, his company had finally turned a profit. Of course, he always viewed paying taxes as a civic responsibility. Perhaps that was a different generation.

    Also, as I blogged about some years ago, we have to remember that tax cuts for the rich are like heroin. They keep needing another hit, and they develop tolerance. Since Reagan, their tolerance has grown, so of course today’s tax cuts aren’t enough. They need more, more, more. That’s what we get for enabling their addiction.

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