Party like it’s 1773… or not.

I don’t get it. Why are taxes such a big deal?

First, the ludicrous “tea parties” being held across the country. I can only think of two possible explanations.

  1. The organizers have so weak a grasp on history that they cannot distinguish between a colony without representation and, oh, a republic where you get to vote, or
  2. the organizers think that “representation” means that their elected officials must always agree with them.

Or maybe it’s a left-wing conspiracy to make a bunch of right-wing talking heads look stupid saying they’re going to “teabag government”. (h/t to Jon Stewart for that one.)
Seriously, the second proposition is the most likely – and the most frightening. There are other examples of this kind of ideological intolerance, most notably in the (nominally) Christian crowd that cry discrimination if their monuments and holidays are not recognized… but do not want to share space or time with either other faiths or those without one. (Note to Christians – if the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.)

But even the basic, general complaining about taxes seems fundamentally selfish and shortsighted. Perhaps it’s because my life has taken some pretty unusual turns, but I’m acutely aware of how beneficial government taxation (and spending) can be. A short list:

  • My fond memories of First Ward Elementary, and useful, if not-so-fond memories of my high school.
  • My father’s job at a state university.
  • The interstates I drove back and forth to college, and again while I was in the military. Try making a long trip on the old US routes. It’s fun – but not very efficient at all. If you want a real challenge, try route 50 all the way across West Virginia. Being behind a coal truck doing a hairpin turn on a steep hill is not fun.
  • The assistance I received while poor and unexpectedly having a family, keeping us from being homeless and hungry until I got in the military.
  • The assistance we have received when my son unexpectedly incurred medical expenses well beyond what our insurance would pay for

And this isn’t even counting the times the police have helped me, or when the EMS squad helped me when I threw my back out and couldn’t get up.

Perhaps an example from my time in the military will help make this more clear:

In the Army, there’s a fund called Army Emergency Relief (AER). It’s funded by donations from other soldiers. While I was in AIT, I suddenly found myself in dire straits, through no fault of my own. AER gave me the money to get through the crisis. For the rest of my military career, I donated money to AER, and saw it help many soldiers, both in my unit and elsewhere.

Having that kind of donation structure – and the framework to effectively disburse monies that way – is possible in the structured environment of the Army. Real life – civilian life – is much more complicated and erratic. Part of the government’s job is to promote the well-being of our entire society in a way none of us can do individually. Unlike private business, the government is not motivated by profit motive, so that we can concentrate less on the absolute bottom line and more on the overall, long-range good for society.

Sometimes government does well with that. Sometimes not so well. There’s always room for improvement at all levels, and we have to be vigilant that the programs we have are both needed and doing what they’re supposed to. Yet the fundamental concept and structure is sound.

I owed taxes (after deductions) for the first time this year. It would have been nice to keep that money.

But it would have barely been enough to fix a pair of potholes, if I had to do it on my own.

At the beginning of this country, shortly after the Boston Tea Party, the founders of this country knew that they must “all hang together, or surely we would all hang separately.” The costs we must bear are small compared to theirs, but the risks to the functioning of our society is just as great.

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