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The Case for Taxes

Reported by Eleanor - August 9, 2004 -

A Newshound editorial:

The Case For Taxes

Taxing income according to the ability to pay is a fair way to pool our resources in support of the common good, and to realize the promise of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Taxes are the resources that we have in "common." The use of this common treasure enables us, together, to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our children. Before 1913, we had no efficient way to fund our government. The commons lacked the resources to make Thomas Jefferson's concept of equality come true.

Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, on which our country is founded, reads in part:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Knowledge in the days of Jefferson wasn't broken up into specialized fields, as it is today. In Jefferson's mind, everything was connected. His liberal education gave him extensive knowledge of science, the arts, and the human condition. He believed that the natural world held deep implications for the human world. Both realms obeyed eternal, rational laws - "self-evident truths" that came from the Creator, with no dependence upon the whims of kings or exceptions for class or nationality.

Jefferson's life in some ways contradicted his words in that he held slaves until he died; and he fathered children by a slave, Sally Hemings, that he never acknowledged. The Declaration of Independence says "all men," and not all men and women or persons, are created equal. He lived the life of an 18th century patrician, but his ideas, born of deep thought and contemplation about the human condition, are still far advanced beyond the place we find ourselves as a nation in the 21st century. We're still trying to form that more "perfect union" promised in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The preamble to the Constitution clearly states that the government of the United States is based upon the belief that the important elements of a "more perfect union" are to promote all of the following for ourselves and our children (posterity):

- Establish justice
- Insure domestic tranquility
- Provide for the common defense
- Promote the general welfare
- Secure the blessings of liberty

With the amendments that have been added through the years, these five elements have been applied to every citizen. The United States is a government of, by and for the people. To secure these rights for the people, the 16th amendment, passed in 1913, gave the government the right to levy a tax on incomes, so that the government could fulfill its vision of equality through the use of common funds.

Suffering through two World Wars and a Great Depression, perceptive people across the nation began to understand that the blessings of liberty cannot be fully realized when we live with economic devastation and War. We must focus on the common good, understand it, and then fund it. This is the only way to ensure that justice, domestic tranquility, the common defense, and the general welfare can become a reality. Under the guidance of Franklin Roosevelt, another patrician in the genre of Jefferson, we started down the road to equality in the 1930's, by using our national treasure, accumulated through taxation, to support the common good.

With the passage of Roosevelt's New Deal, public education; Social Security; labor unions; minimum wage laws; unemployment benefits; the GI Bill; civil rights; business incentives; Medicare; business regulation; environmental protection; consumer protection; welfare; national defense; police and fire departments; a national infrastructure; and other government supported programs, people and businesses began to thrive, and a large, identifiable and viable middle class was growing and expanding in this country by the 1960's.

In addition to the upper, middle and working classes, every society in every generation has a certain number of people who are unable to take care of their own needs without assistance from the people in their family, community, state and/or nation. These unfortunates have problems such as illness, deformity, age, lack of education, low wages, perpetual job loss, or mental challenges. A moral society must care for these people, lift them up, and give them some semblance of the pursuit of happiness that is the promise of our country. In a land rich with resources, we have an obligation to promote the common good by providing for the basic needs of the least and most troubled among us who are not able to help themselves. When we lift them up, some are able to overcome lives of adversity and possibly contribute to society.

Recently, we have heard a lot of talk about "privatizing" the social contract that was so laboriously and painfully created in the 20th century. This powerful constituency is getting huge tax breaks, with the rationale that our money belongs to each of us as individuals, and should not be used to support government "entitlements." As a result, our common treasure is dissipating. The belief of the supporters of a small, unfunded government is the idea that "providing for the common defense" is the legitimate role of government, and that most taxes are unnecessary burdens that interfere with the interests of business. The common good is omitted from the equation.

To establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the GENERAL welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, instead of paying taxes, the "low tax" and "privatization" supporters say that we should fund our own health care, old age pensions, and education. And this is just a start. This kind of thinking is behind the "tax breaks" and "privatizing" schemes. The idea is to pay "low" or even "no" taxes. Save your money to meet your own future needs, rather than pay taxes. Left out of this scenario are the poorest and the most vulnerable among us who pay no taxes now, and who cannot save what they do not have.

The "no tax" and "low tax" crowd is destroying the national treasure, along with the entire concept of pooling our resources to support the common good. A Jeffersonian democracy depends upon having everyone shoulder their share of the tax burden. If we don't pay our fair share, the equality of opportunity that we have been seeking for over 200 years, and that we almost found in the latter half of the 20th century, will be destroyed.

It's time to revisit the idea of tax cuts. We can't afford to lose the ground we have gained since the days of Roosevelt, and go back to a time when our country had only two classes of people - the haves and the have nots. We need to expand, rather than contract the commons, if we are to fulfill the promise to our children of a "more perfect union."

Public health; education; welfare; old age benefits; caring for the sick, young, elderly, and helpless is an obligation that is not an option in a free society. We must put constraints on the excesses of corporate power, and go back to a time when we took care of the needs of the many, and not just the needs of the fortunate few. This is a government of the majority, not the minority. More tax cuts will lead to certain destruction of our way of life. If we wish to be free, we must be willing to pay for it. The best way to lose our freedom is to create a society where only a few have resources, and the many fend for themselves, with no common well from which to draw for the good of the community.

It's like the old story of the town that was starving until they put a large pot of water on the fire and each added what they had - a carrot here, a potato there, an ear of corn, a side of bacon, an onion, etc. until they had a large kettle of soup that fed them all. Or the story of the grandfather on his deathbed who asked the grandson to break a bundle of sticks. No matter how hard he tried, the boy could not break the bundle. When the grandfather told him to break only one stick, it broke easily. The grandfather's message was clear. We can be strong only when we "stick" together. We must use our taxes to create a national soup pot and bundle of sticks. Otherwise, we're each on our own, with our democracy on life support.

The answer is not to demolish the treasury as we're doing now, but rather to pay our fair share of taxes, while ensuring that our tax dollars support the common good, and not be used to fill the coffers of greed.