You Get What You Pay For
Mark Hyman and many conservatives complain about taxes. I can only wonder: why don’t they love their country?
Most recently, Hyman announced “Tax Freedom Day,” the day when (according to right wing think tank, the Tax Foundation) average Americans have worked long enough to pay off their federal, state, and local taxes.
There are problems with using the Tax Foundation as a resource for tax statistics. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has pointed out, the Tax Foundation’s “Tax Freedom” day is based on numbers at odds with those provided by non-partisan organizations, such as the Congressional Budget Office. They play with the numbers to give a falsely high estimation of the amount of taxes that the average American pays.
But there’s a larger issue. Notice the words that the Tax Foundation and Hyman use: Tax Freedom Day, the time when Americans have paid off their tax burden. Taxes take a bigger share of our earnings. The language conjures up images of taxes as imprisonment, as dead weight that must be lugged around, or outright theft.
Those metaphors distort reality. The truth is that taxes are the biggest and most direct way the majority of Americans serve their country. It’s the way we help provide for the future welfare of the nation.
Does that mean we need to be jumping up and down for joy at the idea of paying taxes? Of course not. But I’m sure most soldiers don’t wake up with a smile on their face when they hear reveille at the crack of dawn, and there’s certainly no shortage of complaints about the unpleasant aspects of military life. But they put up with it because they realize these are parts of a greater good: serving their country.
And while taxes might be unpleasant, consider the alternative: no roads, no police, no fire department, no national defense, no food inspection, no standards for worker safety, no public schools . . . none of the services we all rely on to varying degrees to make our lives safe, pleasant, and possible.
Speaking of public schools, let’s look at them as an example of what taxes get us. Hyman lists several states that have the highest and lowest tax “burdens,” according to the Tax Foundation. For giggles, I looked up the Morgan Quinto rankings of the “smartest states,” which is an index based on a host of variables related to the quality of public education in the states.
As you might guess, the states that tend to have higher rates of tax contributions from citizens tend to be closer to the top of the “smart” list, while those with low contributions tend to be closer to the bottom. Specifically, 6 of the top 10 “smart states” are also in the top ten of the Tax Foundation’s list of state tax “burdens.” Five of the bottom 10 in the smart state list are also in the bottom ten in terms of tax contributions. The correlation isn’t exact, but looking over sets of data from both Morgan Quinto and the Tax Foundation over the last few years bears out the trend: when it comes to public education for our children, you get what you pay for.
So paying taxes helps ensure the continued welfare of the country, contributing toward the continued strength of the nation, a nation that, through the contributions and sacrifices of past generations, has provided us with so much. Sure, we don’t want to pay more than our due. After all, how many soldiers volunteer to tack on an extra mile or two to an all day march? Yet that doesn’t mean they aren’t committed to serving their nation.
But those who think tax breaks (particularly for the wealthy) are inherently good and who portray paying taxes as imprisonment or theft think they should be able to enjoy the fruits of living in America without making a contribution.
To them, I say: America—love it or leave it!
And that’s The Counterpoint.
Hyman Index: 3.03