Thousands–probably, millions–of words have been written about Republicans’ religious devotion to anti-tax beliefs. Unfortunately, that dogma is matched by a pervasive lack of understanding of how tax dollars are spent, and what citizens get for our money.
There are plenty of. wasteful programs, of course, not to mention subsidies that have long outlived whatever merit they may once have had. These wasteful and unnecessary programs allow politicians to make the case that all taxes are theft. It then follows that any and all efforts to reduce taxes are by definition laudatory.
Which brings us to Donald Trump’s recent plan to end or defer the payroll tax.
As a number of media sources have explained, payroll taxes support Social Security and Disability Insurance. Social Security’s Chief Actuary, Stephen C. Goss, evaluated the Trump proposal; he concluded that it would end Disability Insurance in mid-2021 and destroy Social Security by mid-2023.
When those of us who are fortunate enough to still be employed look at our pay stubs, we see hefty deductions for FICA. Most of us have undoubtedly thought about how nice it would be to have those dollars right now. Reasonably informed adults, however, who realize that they will need Social Security at some point, understand that deferring instant gratification is in their long-term best interests. (It’s true that some small portion of the population would be able to invest on their own behalf, but since most people couldn’t or wouldn’t, massive poverty among the elderly would result.)
Those who don’t know what the payroll tax deduction pays for see it as just another tax to attack.
I understand that tax policy can be complicated. When I pontificate about Americans’ lack of civic literacy, I’m not suggesting that we all need to know the ins-and-outs of the various ways government assesses us to pay for services–but it would be helpful if people recognized that we need to pay for services that are widely popular and obviously needed at the local, state and federal levels.
Actually, it would be more than helpful if Americans could agree on the essential components of both our physical and social infrastructure. At the local level, there’s a public outcry if streets, roads and bridges aren’t properly maintained. Whatever our concerns about policing, a vast majority expect local government to provide for public safety. Most of us think cities should provide public transit, garbage and snow removal, and a variety of other services.
Survey research leaves no doubt about the popularity of federal social welfare programs like Social Security and Medicare. Survey research also tells us that far too many Americans fail to connect the dots between the taxes they pay and the services they demand.
Should thoughtful and competent individuals and organizations monitor government. programs to ensure that our tax dollars are being wisely and appropriately spent? Absolutely. Are there programs that should be eliminated? You betcha! But ensuring the efficiency of public administration is a far cry from across-the-board anti-tax dogma–and a very far cry from uninformed and dangerous efforts to keep today’s dollars by selling the future short.
As usual, Trump and his administration are counting on the ignorance of his supporters. And to be fair, eliminating the payroll tax is (marginally) less dangerous than drinking bleach…