Today is tax day, April 15th, a day when most Americans enjoy grumbling a bit about the money we collectively pay to our government. Some grumble more than others. I try not to grumble about paying my fair share of taxes, because unlike some people I actually appreciate that maintaining a civilization costs money.
All over the country today there are people holding “tea parties”, during which they hold up signs in protest of taxes, chant slogans in protest of taxes, stomp their feet in protest of taxes, and squeal at the tops of their lungs in protest of taxes. It’s always about taxes, with those people. They represent a peculiar faction in American politics; stupid, narcissistic, emotionally infantile, and Libertarian. Actually, the first three adjectives there can be readily substituted for the fourth. Today’s “tea party” protesters are a pretty sorry lot… self-centered morons who seem to think the world owes them prosperity for free, roads for free, fire departments for free, military protection for free, and for all I know ice cream and cookies for free. Where do these people come from? Mostly from poor America… where taxes have purchased rural electrification, mail routes, farm subsidies, piped drinking water, roads, cheap grazing land, and the absence of Somali-style mob rule. There are also the rich tax-haters; people who have benefited immensely from a peaceful, prosperous society maintained by tax treasure, but who cannot stomach the idea of paying back one single penny to the nation that made their wealth even possible.
Would I rather keep 100% of my money, than pay taxes? Actually, no. Taxes are the ticket price I pay to live in freedom and peace. I try to keep in mind that without those taxes, I’d instead have to pay bribes to everyone in sight to get anything done, I’d have to pay protection money to whatever warlord whose territory I passed through, and I’d have to offer tribute to anyone with a gun who felt like bursting into my home at any moment. No, given the choice I’d rather live in a place where taxes are collected by responsible, dutiful people who work for a government that is accountable for its actions, and where those taxes are then used to keep things running in a generally smooth fashion. I pay taxes to my city so that if a fire breaks out in my home I don’t have to haggle with four different rival fire departments over how much I pay to make them haul out the water hoses. I pay taxes so that other people’s kids can get a decent education, even though I don’t have any kids, because an educated populace makes for a successful society. I pay taxes so that cops actually show up when I call them, and so when they show up they don’t try to shake me down for cash to do their jobs. I pay taxes so I can drive to visit my family across state lines without having to stop to pay a different toll to a different private road-owner every five miles. I pay taxes because the alternative is too horrific to contemplate.
Should the government run everything, or take everything I have in taxes? Of course not, but with surefire regularity that’s the false dichotomy we’re offered by tax deniers: Stalinist collectivism or shining Libertarian freedom. Only a halfwit could see the world that simply. Government isn’t a them… it’s what we set up to do the dirty work we don’t want to do ourselves, or to manage problems that can’t be trusted in private, unaccountable hands. Do you want roads? They’re going to cost you. Do you want a functioning health care system? It’s going to cost you. Do you want honest, law-abiding protection from criminal predators? That’s going to cost you, too. Grow up and deal with it.
The point of government is to set the stage, then it’s our turn to play our own roles and strive for success individually. Government can’t give us success for free, and I don’t want it to try… but I do want to be able to pay my check once a year so I can count on the stage being there for me to strut and fret my hour upon. Good-natured venting over paying Uncle Sam is a time-worn tradition, and I have no problem with that. I do, however, have a problem with people who want something for nothing. I have a problem with idiots who are happy to enjoy the benefits of a peaceful civilization, but then try to sneak out the back when it comes time to settle the tab. They may call themselves patriots, but I call them parasites.