July 24, 2011

Taxes as wasted consumer spending

Interesting to talk to people about taxes. I understand that historically people have not wanted to pay taxes, and of course, we have our "taxation without representation" cry from the American Revolution (that is partially true, at least). And there is little doubt that the Republican party has seized on that as a rallying cry and easy way to get votes. "I will cut your taxes, no matter how low they get, and you can be free and have what you want." That is a pretty easy sell.

But what bugs me is how dismissive conservatives have become about taxes as if they are all bad. I know I have said this before, but my taxes go to help disabled and poor--to help people overseas avoid malaria and AIDS. Of course, my taxes also go to sugar subsidies and torture rooms. None of us ever get everything we want from taxes or government--a truism if there ever was.

However, in this day and age where we are supposed to imagine the federal government as a household budget that should live within its means, it might be instructive to take those Republican tactics and actually put them through a household budget. (Make no mistake, the largest economy in the world should not be managed as a household budget, but just hear me out.)

First, of course, this national household budget has done the opposite of what most actual budgets try to do--it has taken a purposeful salary reduction and is always fighting to bring in less money. I know of no household who does this on purpose. Second, this national budget seems to see all taxes and expenditures as wasteful. It is as if we, as a family, simply decided to not pay for a roof, because it was not fun, or tires for the car, or oil changes for the car. So many of those costs are not ones that we get to enjoy or play with, but are ever so necessary and are not wasteful at all. They allow us to have cover, or transportation, or heat and air, etc.

But Conservatives have sold the bill of goods that your tax money doesn't get you anything, because it goes to the government instead of to something you like. But it goes to invest in schools, and public health, and infrastructure, and the healthcare for others. Because we all live in a broader community and are harmed when our neighbors are sick or under educated, or when the roads and sewers don't work.

If Progressives could do anything, it would be to identify the actual benefits from taxes--things that benefit even the anti-tax people. Things like Medicaid support for nursing home care, or matching funds for police and fire services, or for cleaner and healthier water systems. Investments in technology that, I would argue, probably lay somewhere in the process of every technology we enjoy today. Investments that have allowed millions to build small and large businesses.


Cold In Laramie said...


I wonder how effective it would be for "Progressives ... to identify the actual benefits from taxes--things that benefit even the anti-tax people. Things like Medicaid support for nursing home care, or matching funds for police and fire services, or for cleaner and healthier water systems."

Don't you think that the issue is about what is the entity that would best provide "nursing home care," police, fire services and water systems? Don't you think that the core issue is whether private businesses are better suited for these things (Republicans) or government (Democrats)? So, if my assessment is correct, then it would not matter to highlight the benefit of taxes because many people believe that private corporations should be the ones providing these things to society. I think now about how cities contract with private waste disposal companies to collect trash.

I tend to agree with you here and this is an OLD debate. In a sense, this was essentially the debate of the Progressive Era (1890-1917). Daniel Rodgers' book ATLANTIC CROSSINGS for instance discusses the conversation in Europe and the United States about business and government.

Streak said...

Actually, my point is that entities that Republicans see as purely private businesses (because they are) get assistance from the government and the line between private (good) and government (bad) is an artificial one.

You know, I don't think I have read Rodgers' book. I should give that a look. I certainly can see the parallels in terms of the discussion today--with the difference that more people who benefit from government don't realize it and oppose government assistance.

steves said...

I think progressives could also point to privatization programs that utterly failed. Back in the 90's there was an attempt to privatize public mental health services in several states. It ended up costing way more than it was supposed to and delivering sub-standard services.

I think another problem is the perception that progressives aren't interested in cutting wasteful spending. I understand that not everyone will agree on what is wasteful, but there is a belief that the left is careless with spending.

Streak said...

I wonder what the numbers are on private prisons. We are starting to see that their lobbying efforts are counter to the public good, but I would actually like to see how they compare in cost.

Cold In Laramie said...

Well, Streak, you know me - I don't read that carefully :).

steves said...

Private prisons bother me. We have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, so I wonder if the same groups that lobby for private prisons also lobby for tough on crime sentencing.