America’s Tax Problem Isn’t That Taxes Are Too High, It’s That We Don’t Think We GET Anything For Them…

Americans have always hated paying taxes. “No taxation without representation” was one of our first great marketing triumphs as a young nation. Wanna know who WE are? We’re the “We ain’t paying no stinking taxes” guys.

The colonists saw their tax dollars going out and nothing coming back in return.

What made it worse — the things they could point to that their tax dollars were funding included the British soldiers who, the Americans increasingly believed, were oppressing them. Americans, it turns out, HATE paying to be oppressed.

We resisted any sort of federal income tax for 140 years (caveat — the federal govt briefly imposed an income tax during the Civil War) until the 16th amendment was ratified in 1913 — that’s the one that made a federal income tax legal. Just for information’s sake, the first federally imposed tax was an inheritance tax. We knew even back then that the rich were hoarding cash.

When someone holds out their hand to you — expecting YOU to put cash in it — you kinda want to know what you’re getting for it. Even if all you’re responding to a threat with a bribe or a payoff, you KNOW what you’re getting — a few moments of relative peace until the next time they come with their hand out. You may not like what you’re getting, but at least you can identify it. Most Americans couldn’t tell you what they get for their tax dollars — other than the military and “the federal government” in all its polymorphous splendor. The problem is, aside from the military (which is mostly other people doing what they do far, far away), Americans see their tax dollars as paying for nothing.

Taxes are a black hole that mocks us relentlessly. Only a sucker pays taxes. Isn’t that what we’re taught?

We laugh at Europeans because they pay such high taxes — Just above 60% in Denmark, for instance. The sub headline from this article (from US News & World Report, 2016) says it all: “People in the European country see taxes as an investment in their quality of life”. They’re laughing at us a lot harder than we ever laughed at them. By virtually every metric — other than self-delusion — Northern Europeans like the Danes (the ones paying the highest taxes) are far, far, FAR happier than we are.

They’re far healthier than we are. As is said — they work to live. Americans, OTOH, live to work. Yeah — the ones paying the higher taxes are far happier than the ones begrudging every tax dollar spent.

But then, Europeans like the Danes can point to things they GET for their tax dollars. They GET health CARE from cradle to grave.

That’s especially foreign to Americans because we think in terms of health INSURANCE, not health CARE. That’s because our system evolved out of an historical anomaly that arose during WW II. The first employersponsored hospitalization plan was created by teachers in Dallas, Texas in 1929. These were small, very localized health plans that were meant to deal with catastrophic situations. Hospitalization. In the absence of any sort of “national health system”, every locality did what it did in its own way.

During WW II, the federal government directed every possible tax dollar its way. It was illegal, during the war, to give employees raises (or to raise a salary so as to attract talent to a job). But fringe benefits like, say, “health insurance” didn’t count as salary. Big companies (they could afford to) offered “health plans” instead.

Then the war ended — and these health plans should have ended right along with it. From Wikipedia: In his November 19, 1945 address to the nation, President Harry Truman proposed “…a national system that would be open to all Americans, but would remain optional. Participants would pay monthly fees into the plan, which would cover the cost of any and all medical expenses that arose in a time of need. The government would pay for the cost of services rendered by any doctor who chose to join the program. In addition, the insurance plan would give cash to the policy holder to replace wages lost because of illness or injury.”

Americans liked the idea — a lot. But the AMA hated it. So did the Chamber of Commerce and The American Hospital Association. They denounced it as “socialism”.

And that is where America’s shot at Universal Single Payer Health CARE died.

The people who opposed it did not oppose it on medical grounds, they opposed it for monetary reasons. Greed mattered more than medicine. FACT.

If Truman had done what Obama did — muscled his way past the greed as best he could — we wouldn’t be laughing AT the Danes and the Swedes and the British and the Germans and the French and the Canadians. We’d be laughing with them.

These systems aren’t perfect. Not by a long shot. Nothing is — can we please accept that fact? But — the data’s pretty conclusive — if you want to measure a health care system by its successful health care outcomes? We’ve got it all wrong. We pay far more and get far less.

Ah, but — what if we payed less (our individual piles of money are the same pile whether we pay taxes with it or out-of-pocket health care costs like deductibles & co-pays) and got a whole lot more for those very same dollars? What if — in addition to cradle to grave health CARE — we got the knowledge that we could NEVER go broke or lose our houses because we or someone we love got sick?

What if Americans — instead of merely seeing a deduction already taken from their paycheck or a check written to the US Treasury in blood — got an itemized bill that showed 1) what they themselves owed but (more importantly), 2) also gave them a detailed breakdown of where every single penny went. And what if some of those things their every tax dollar funded was good health care with the doctors they like?

Caveat — it’s not just the tax system that needs overhauling. It’s the whole nature of the health CARE system. In a universal single-payer system, every physician who wants to have a license to practice medicine will have to take part. Part of our “you know what you’re paying for system” would now include your education. Want to be a doctor? We’ll pay for it — you’ll pay for it (via your taxes). But then you won’t leave college/university hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. You will have to spend your early years as a doctor inside the National Health CARE System. You’ll learn a ton. You’ll be well compensated — but you won’t be overly compensated.

Health care cannot be a wild, wild west of greed. It simply can’t be run that way — otherwise you get what WE have where people get billed $3200 cos they caught coronavirus. That should be a joke that we all laugh at because it’s so incomprehensible.

That’s our reality. It’s why people like the Danes laugh their asses off at us.

There’s no such thing as a “rugged individual”. That’s a bullshit myth “rugged individuals” (men — almost exclusively men) tell themselves to justify their greed.

They’re the ones benefiting from our tax system.

WE Alone Can Fix It

The Big Lie that helped bring us the Age Of Trump flows from that wellspring of bullshit — Libertarianism. “I alone can fix it” is laughably absurd.

But, as much as some of us roared the first time Donald Trump spewed those words, some in the crowd — their ears perked up. They, too, think they alone can fix it, having convinced themselves that Ayn Rand was a genius who saw the rugged individual inside of them that ached to be a Master of His Own Fate.

Ayn Rand died in poverty on the public dole. So much for rugged individualism and “I alone can fix it”. Those are literary conceits — and, in the hands of Ayn Rand, horribly written literary conceits on top of it. I bet she even sucked as a typist.

As we all know about Trump, he couldn’t even “fix” his own election alone. Russia did that for him.

If the Democrats really want to draw a clear distinction between their message and the GOP’s (not that there’s any similarity between the two), they could focus in on the nonsensical Republican belief that “I alone can fix it”. What pretty much every single Democrat is already touting, the Democratic message is “WE alone can fix it”.

If I were running for office — that’s how I’d explain what needs to happen. For starters, we need to stop seeing a president as a fix-all. Great leaders — not fixing anything alone — know how to get the best from everyone around them. Great leaders don’t pilfer from the people supporting them (claiming credit for their ideas), they embrace the ideas — not just giving credit but demonstrating how the more ideas we get from more places, the better and more inclusive our problem-solving will be.

This is a rare moment in modern American history. For all the pride Americans take in the benefits of citizenship, too few accept the responsibilities that also come with being an American especially the responsibility to vote. Suddenly Americans want to vote. Suddenly Americans feel the tug of responsibility.

If the trend lines started in 2018 continue, the American electorate is pretty much woke. We’re paying attention as never before.

Americans, being Americans (with a very short attention span), this won’t last. We’re racing toward a resolution of Trumpism. Too many people who know the Truth are stepping forward now. 2020 will absolutely be a referendum on Trumpism — and it will be turned out utterly and completely. But, in the moments just before Americans revert back to deep-seated apathy, we can change how they think about being an American.

I would tell my fellow Americans that their being “woke” is essential to our health as a republic. Before they revert though, they need to pay attention for a little while longer. How we resolve Trumpism — how we go forward — how we think of “us” — how we think of The Rule Of Law — how we think of the taxes we pay and what we expect that money to do FOR US (not in spite of us) — all of these things need to be on the table.

Especially the last thing — how we pay for fixing us.

Americans view paying taxes the way they view death. A terrible, terrible inevitability. We believe our tax dollars buy us nothing except an army and a lot of useless bureaucrats.

I would attack that idea first. I would remind every American that we are the greatest experiment ever in human SELF-GOVERNMENT. We do this. WE.

If every tax-paying American were given a statement that showed where every penny of their tax dollars went — including things useless and things useful — they might not be happy (not at first), but they’d start to feel a little more in control. At least they’d understand their relationship to the government in practical, day-to-day terms they could actually relate to.

It’s a thought anyway.

America’s motto is not “I alone can fix it”. It’s E Pluribus Unum. From many, one.

That’s our strength. It’s our saving grace, too.

Hey, America — Here’s A Radical Idea: Let’s Tax The Ignorant

I hope like hell this isn’t a revelation: ignorance is blissful only for the ignorant.  Ignorance is expensive as hell for everyone else.

Ignorance is caused by lack of information.  Willful ignorance is a refusal to accept information that would cure the ignorance.  Stupidity, on the other hand, is just that — stupidity.  It’s deep-seated dopiness; dim-wittedness on steroids. 

There’s less hope for the stupid than the ignorant.  In theory, one can inform the ignorant.  The stupid… they’re too stupid to learn anything.  That’s a big part of their problem.  It’s why they’re stupid.  

Though many, many stupid people are ignorant, a stupid person can’t ever be willfully ignorant.  Stupid people — where their stupidity is concerned — have no choice about being stupid whereas willfully ignorant people… well, there’s the “willful” part — the deliberation.  Willful ignorance is a choice.  And — as ample evidence proves — ignorance (willful or otherwise) costs a bomb.  In money.  In lives.  In prestige.  In decency. 

Now, while I pity most stupid people (it’s not their fault they’re stupid), there is one group of the stupid who I despise.  They’re the people whose stupidity was caused by greed.

Greed – the data is pretty uniform on this – makes everyone stupid. 

While taxing the ignorant may seem cruel, it’s really the only way to motivate them to fix their problem.  And all they have to do to fix their problem?  Learn something.  Cure the ignorance with good information.

It’s a little like using light to ‘fix” a darkness problem.  And when you finally get the lights back on?  Bet the ranch you’ll find an ignorant person sitting there – unaware they didn’t have to sit in the dark.

End of the day? I bet the ignorant will thank us for, in effect, taxing the ignorance right out of them. Then we can set our sights on the stupid.

Americans Despise Paying Taxes Because They Perceive It As Money For Nothing

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.

Horse shit.

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.