Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Democracy Taxed

Nobody prefers paying taxes...with the possible exception of IRS employees who realize that their tax returns along with those of others keep them employed.

Hardly anyone enjoys coughing up hard-earned money to “the government.”

Everyone likes to rail about taxes especially today, “Tax Day,” April 15.

But taxes are the necessary price for a civil society.

Fire and police protection. Food inspectors. Air traffic controllers. Libraries. Unemployment insurance. Water and sewer systems. Border protection. Medical care for senior citizens. Courts. Public parks and open spaces. Educational, nutritional, and medical programs for pre-school age children. Boards of elections. Enforcement of clean air and water laws.

These and hundreds of other social, economic and political functions are the glue that bond people and their/our institutions together to forge community. Humans are social beings. We need social networks — both informal and formal.

Governments are one type of formal network that at their best reflect the will of their inhabitants through their constitutions, rules, laws, policies and programs. Taxes provide the funds that allow governments to create and maintain these functions.

Are all taxes fair? No. Are tax dollars wasted? Absolutely. Can other formal networks besides governments sometimes perform the same social function without tax dollars. Sure.

This doesn’t mean we don’t need taxes.

At their best, governments are us. We need public structures and institutions that create, maintain, protect, and defend the commons and collective goals. We also need governments to control and define the other major organized structure and institution in our societies that threaten self-governance — the major one being business corporations.

As problematic as governments may be in representing its citizens, they are bastions of self-governance compared to business corporations. Business corporations are not democratic. Employees have no Bill of Rights protections. Business corporations are not loyal to any people or place. Business corporations, in fact, seek to supplant the role of government not just economically but politically. That’s what drives privatization of public assets and institutions.  

Several dozen “Tax Day Tea Parties” are taking place today across Ohio — as part of a nationwide revolt against  taxes. They’re billed as nonpartisan. Many I’ve read about are focused on opposing President Obama’s stimulus programs. Whether deliberate or not, the tenor of these brewing tax revolt actions, however, seems to be much more — to reduce the power, authority, and wherewithal of government to:

  1. Define and control corporate actions
  2. Ensure that governments can’t assume new authorities that may be better in the public rather than the corporate domain — i.e. controlling the issuance of national currency, and/or
  3. Decrease the ability of government to meet basic public functions, thereby, opening the door to selling or leasing them to for-profit business corporations.

There’s no question we need a tax revolt. The proposed fiscal year federal budget calls for over $700 billion for military spending (to maintain a military empire with bases and troops in more than 100 nations, including current wars and occupations in several) and $750 billion more to bailout banks that lost trillions in risky and bizarre financial gambles. An increasing amount of our tax dollars are in the form of corporate welfare. None of this increases housing security, health care security, environmental security, job security (expect for bankers and military contractors), or education security. It’s not taxes that are revolting but how and where they’re spent.

Reducing taxes for any of the three reasons above simply taxes democracy by decreasing the ability of governments to set and enforce laws, rules, priorities and programs that reflect the wishes and interests of the vast majority of the public --- and against those running national and transnational business corporations.

In a time when the “free market” and Wall Street has demonstrated beyond doubt its lack of service to the public interest and lack of public accountability, government provides the best institutional path to authentic public accountability and responsibility.

Tax Day Tea Parties only brews blanket hostility at the government and represents an effort to divert popular anger away from where it most needs to be — against the growing power and rights of business corporations and toward creating a government ruled by people.

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