I believe in taxes. Frequently during my thirty years of federal service, a member of the public would emphasize some point to me by saying, “I pay your salary.” As an argument, that never works because government employees pay taxes, too. But, as an assertion of ownership, it was to the point. Every day the citizen-taxpayer side of me would watch over the public servant side and guide my decisions.
I am troubled by people who speak as though taxation is a wicked thing. We are a government of, by, and for the people. Taxes are what we pay to take care of ourselves.
There’s national security, of course, but everything you touch: the electricity that lights your home, the water in your faucet, the air you breathe, the bank that holds your savings and financed the building where you live, the roads you travel, the vehicle you travel in, the materials that built the place where you work, the marketplace where your company competes, the food you eat, the toys your children play with, and their schools—everything you touch and trust is made trustworthy by government regulations and regulators. Every day government workers prevent at least a thousand disasters, large and small. And, where there is a breakdown in the safety net of a local, state or federal system there is invariably a lack of funds at the bottom of it.
There are countries without our guarantees. I have been in places where I could literally feel air pollution with my hand. I’ve flown over vast tracks of land forever contaminated by unregulated toxic waste and floated down a river where the surrounding tropical forest was silent due to unrestricted hunting by people too poor to feed themselves any other way. I’ve seen the mentally ill wandering naked in the streets, corpses lying on the roadside for a relative to find them and elderly begging outside a church because their monthly pension was no more than the price of an ice cream bar at the cart on the corner. I have struggled with governments so strangled by the corruption of underpaid officials that private enterprise barely exists. In short, I have seen what the U.S. could become without the services that taxes buy.
True, tax money could often be spent more wisely, but at its worst, government spending employs people, buys American products and services and helps the economic wheels go round. It is money at work.
Good politics is spending while the problems are small to avoid the expensive emergencies looming on the horizon.
If the 9/11 Commission had told the absolute truth, they would have concluded that the intelligence failed because success was not in the budget. Deterrence was not in the budget. Those of us who have worked at airports knew the door to disaster was open. So did Congress, but apparently cutting taxes was more important than protecting lives.
I don’t believe that I work for myself alone. I believe that all men are brothers, and I am my brother’s keeper. I also believe that taxes—properly applied–make our country and our world a safer place.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.