Ask just about any American “What do you get for your tax dollars” and I’ll bet you next year’s minuscule tax refund they’ll reply “Nothing. We get NOTHING!” There’s even a chance they’ll spit, too. Several times.
Want to lose an election? Tell an American you’re raising his taxes. Doesn’t matter what the raised taxes are for, the American will assume it’s bullshit. It must be bullshit — because no one can ever seem to tell us what our taxes pay for except in the very abstract: our taxes pay for the military and Congress and the president and “government”. We see most of that (if not all of it) as money out with nothing coming back in return.
Oh — occasionally what comes back in return is a $100 toilet seat or some other expensive boondoggle that did no one any good except the politician who made the deal. You couldn’t buy or invent worse press.
In Europe, by contrast, they pay a huge tax bill. But they get so much in return. The Danes, for instance, pays the highest taxes in the world. Yet they’re also the happiest people in the world. Those taxes are buying them complete health care coverage and educational expenses. The Danish government spends more money on its youngest and oldest citizens per capita than any other country. And every Danish tax-payer knows this.
Belgium’s citizens pay 4% corporate tax rate, 21% VAT and upper limit of 50% on personal income. Belgium still ranked 18th in the world in GDP and consistently ranks high in the quality of life ratings published in the United Nations Human Development Report. It’s not perfect. An influx of immigration has strained the economics — but that’s because Europe’s economies aren’t really geared to absorb immigration the way America’s economy is (and always has been).
On the flip side — in the interest of fairness — there’s Italy and Greece. They approached the same desire for social democracy but without the discipline required. It does require discipline.
If Americans walked into a restaurant and were told, more or less, to fork over X dollars for their meal — sight unseen — they’d balk for sure. Rightfully so, too. It doesn’t help that Americans don’t see the government as theirs or representative of “them” but as some interloper and part-time thief.
What if We The People — in order to perfect our imperfect union – re-imagined our government and how we fund it from the point of view of its citizens. You know: “We The People”.
What if, instead of just paying taxes — or having them taken from us by an unseen and unstoppable hand — we had paying taxes explained to us. What if we gave Americans a solid civic education that made it clear how they, Americans, are an essential part of this Great Experiment in Human Self Government?
What if we made passing a real civics test part of any high schooler’s high school graduation. It should be hard, too. No pass? No graduate. It’s for real. What if, as part of that education — and it doesn’t have to be a dull, trying experience; we could just as easily make it exciting — as exciting and meaningful as actually being an American.
And what if part of the excitement of being an American was the healthcare your tax dollar was buying you — in addition to the military protection, the infrastructure, the college education, the supplemental pension and the assistance if you need it? The data set says that populations that don’t have to worry about losing their homes should they get cancer — they’re happier than, say, US.
The data also says that people who don’t spend half their working lives paying for their educations also are happier than Americans. We could bring Guaranteed Basic Income into the conversation but — another time.
Americans have a bad habit of telling themselves things about themselves that simply aren’t true. We loves us some mythology, we do — especially when it paints us as rugged individualists. Yes, sure — there are lots of Americans who fit that description. Part of America’s lure is that anyone from anywhere can come here and — if they’re willing to work hard enough — accomplish anything. But no one – NO ONE – every does that alone.
We keep bumping into the sharp edges of our own hubris. That is, the white minority of this country continues to paint a phony picture that Americans (white guys in their minds) are exceptional just because they’re who they are. They have bought into a phony mythology that, left to their own devices, each white man is a great commercial success just waiting for his moment to shine. Taxes on such a junior level captain-of-industry are budensome.
American exceptionalism is its diversity. Its exceptionalism does not extend to rich white guys and their money. It doesn’t extend either to the phony belief that Americans, somehow, are different — that we love “freedom” more. No, we love keeping money in our pocket more. We love indulging our greed and calling it by a nicer name — “prudent”.
Americans need a tax system that 1) taxes them fairly and with the understanding that those tax dollars are meant — ever dollar spent — to benefit them, their family, their community, their state, their country. If there’s waste — let’s get at it with a sledge hammer FFS! The goal is for Americans to see their taxes as their money that their government is spending for their benefit.
An itemized tax bill — as itemized as a tax return — would be nice. Even nicer — if the line items showed not just the outflow of tax dollar to the government but the inflow of benefits (assuming health care & college & the security that you won’t die a pauper). If Americans could see their taxes in terms of a cost-benefit analysis — where they were clearly getting something — they’d think of their taxes very differently.
I doubt they’d ever be happy paying taxes but at least they’d understand their taxes — their relationship to them. It could even quiet their moaning about taxes. I’m not holding my breath though.