In Praise of Taxes

by Tom Swift

I am grateful for the public schools to which I attended. Paid for by taxes.

I am grateful for the roads on which I drive. Paid for by taxes.

I am grateful that we have a strong national defense and that the women and men who have served us in combat receive benefits for having done so. Paid for by taxes.

I am grateful to live in a country where we provide health care and base income for seniors so that they do not have to live in poverty. Paid for by taxes.

I am grateful that so many of those among us who are disabled or have low incomes can get the medical care they need. Paid for by taxes.

We do not have a person of solid moral character in the White House at present. But throughout our country we have women and women who serve in mayor’s offices and state houses and county boards and even some in Congress who strive to do right by us. Their service would not be possible if not for taxes.

Today is not the deadline, as it usually is, on which we must pay at least our federal taxes. But it is a good day to remember that our taxes pay for the society we have, the society we are creating.

I hate waste. I have a strong aversion when I hear of instances in which the government misused or misplaced our money. I think as citizens we should expect our tax dollars to be spent wisely and appropriately. We should hold our public officials to account.

But I also do not believe that we should encourage the notion that taxes are, in and of themselves, evil. In fact, I think we should actively discourage such a notion.

You do not get rights without responsibilities. Just like you do not get a new iPhone without the money to pay for it, you don’t get the roads cleared after a snowstorm if you do not have the money to pay for that service.

Especially now — especially during this time of crisis when we all want the government to solve a pandemic — it’s important to remember that public health officials are just that: public servants doing their best to protect our (all of our) health. Yet we scoff that we might have to pay the taxes that fund their work? There is a dissonance there that is impossible to square.

Could we as a country do better with our tax dollars? Certainly.

Could our tax system be fairer? No doubt.

Yet the current culture is that you should pay as little in taxes as you can get away with. (I read a profile on Jeff Bezos the other day. Did you know Amazon pays no federal taxes — none? On account of clever accountants, tax shelters, and the like. Yet Amazon receives billions in government contracts — grotesque in the extreme.) That is wrong.

We should not encourage a culture of cheating on our taxes any more than we encourage cheating on our academic exams, cheating on our admittance into prestigious universities, or cheating to win baseball games.

That guy who brags about cheating on his taxes? He’s not cheating some evil amorphous entity.

He’s cheating us. He’s cheating our country.

Taxes are an essential part of making America great.