Monday, November 01, 2010

A kind word for taxes

As a reporter on a small town newspaper many years ago, l met a farmer who believed strongly in self-reliance as the way to slash taxes. Each family, he insisted, should drill its own well for water, surface the road in front of its own property, and dispose of sewage in its own outhouse or septic tank instead of depending on government.

He was angry and frustrated because his ideas didn’t become public policy. The 21st century has many people of the same mind and with same emotions. Their cause is anti-tax, and their reaction is anger, because their ideas are not implemented.

At my youngest son’s graduation ceremonies in the vast Coliseum in Richmond, I got a taste of popular feeling against taxes. Each group of black-clad graduates of Virginia Commonwealth University got our warm acclaim even when we could hardly fathom their achievement. Then, amid the successful candidates from the School of Business, a lone male stood up to receive the degree of master of taxation.

Master of taxation! The words triggered a deep and prolonged booooo. Afterward, I recounted the incident in a column that appeared in the U.S. News & World Report under the heading “A Kind Word for Taxes.” I quoted the words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

“A reversal of values is in order,” I added. ‘Those of us – individuals and corporations – who have benefited much from the freedom of our land ought to be proud to pay taxes. To wipe out or huge federal deficit, we need to address a deficit of another sort – one of wisdom, unselfishness, and, yes, sacrifice.”

Nowadays, when so many believe our taxes are much too high, we should at least be open to the facts. Charles R. Philips, in a Commonweal article (October 22 issue), points to one widely unrecognized fact: we’re not as heavily taxed as are citizens of most other industrial nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Counting all taxes – sales, income, property, whatever, imposed by all levels of government – as a percentage of GDP, the United States ranks 27th out 30 countries in the total taxes paid by its citizens. Only the people of South Korea, Turkey, and Mexico carried a heavier burden.
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