Taxes are riddled with complexities to the point where few people could ever understand them. This leads to every politician promising to lower taxes and silly “pledges” childishly thrust upon them by Grover Norquist. For once, I want it to not be political suicide for a politician to say we might need to raise some taxes. Instead, everyone stays quiet about it, which leads to taxes only being raised on those without a voice loud enough to fight back.
Here is the reality: We have a lot of government expenses. Somehow these expenses have to be paid. If we want a prohibitive military, someone has to pay for it. If we want roads and bridges, someone has to pay for it. If we want utilities, fire protection, police protection, someone has to pay for it. And guess what. If you don’t want to be paying $10 for a gallon of gas, $8 for a gallon of milk, $25 for a pound of beef, and a dramatic price increase on everything that contains corn (which, by the way, is nearly everything), then someone has to pay for it. At least that’s what those industries will tell you. Go read up on government subsidies; you’ll come out of it angry and confused, I promise.
This is one of those annoying political areas where someone says, “Do you believe in raising taxes or lowering taxes?” That’s a stupid question, so please don’t ask it to anyone. The amount of context that is left out of that question is staggering. No one wants taxes to be raised, so a politician saying anything other than that would be a sound byte that would haunt them forever. But what if our country is attacked? What if another country is attacked and needs our help? This costs a lot of money, and not addressing it by increasing revenues is what has led us to the enormous deficits and overall debt for the nation.
The reason I harp on people like Grover Norquist and his “no tax pledge” is that, not only does it ignore all context, it doesn’t even allow context to enter the discussion. Do I think the very wealthy should pay more in taxes so all poor people can get a Lexus? Of course not. Do I think people making over $1 million a year could pay a little more in taxes so adults making $7.25/hour can feed their children? Saying no to that should be the political equivalent of clubbing a baby seal. Unfortunately, it’s not. Somewhere along the line, our society decided the seal deserves it.
It’s time for politicians to tell you the truth. Sometimes taxes need to be raised. Perhaps saying that will come back to bite me if I run for political office, but if I were to run, honesty would be the most prominent part of my platform, and this is the honest truth. If ever a politician tells you different, he or she is lying to you. They can be lowered again when our debt is lower or gone, and our obligations to our state and country have been fulfilled.
We could actually be there now. In 2001, President Bush enacted his first round of tax cuts because, and I’m completely serious about this, they were afraid to pay the debt down to 0. The Clinton Administration left the country with a surplus, and the debt was going down. Now, there are obvious reasons that a country having 0 debt could be a problem; namely, what happens to surplus money after the debt is paid off. The government buying up private property would not be a situation that ends pretty.
The more important part of this is that, under testimony before Congress, Alan Greenspan said these tax cuts were the best way to slow down paying off the debt, which seems reasonable…a more controlled approach. A very important recommendation in that testimony from Greenspan was largely ignored, though. Because he knew how quickly the economy can change, he suggested automatic tax hikes if the government started running deficits again. The automatic tax hikes were left out, the World Trade Centers were attacked, and we jumped into trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then Bush the Younger threw in another round of tax cuts in 2003, because apparently the deficit wasn’t screwed up enough yet. The result of all this was fiscally conservative Republicans cranking the national debt up and blaming everything on terrorists. Dick Who Shall Not Be Named used the Vice Presidency to get his company a $39.5 billion profit from the Iraq War. Deregulation going back into the Clinton Administration finally crept up and suddenly a bunch of investors found out at the same time they were carrying toxic assets, everyone bailed and every company got bailed out, and the market tanked. Companies started laying people off in droves, and the combination of lower income tax revenues (less people working) and increased unemployment benefits kept the debt piling up.
A huge swath of all that could have been avoided if we weren’t so afraid of the mere concept of a tax increase. Everyone wanted us to attack Afghanistan and, for what we now know were misleading reasons, Iraq. Going to war means everyone at home has to pitch in extra. We can’t have our military police the world and simultaneously cut taxes. So next time you find yourself wanting to whine about your taxes, think about all the things around you that you need and use often that would not be possible without those taxes. You want your taxes cut, just remember you get what you pay for.