Taxed Enough? Already?

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party

It’s one thing to say that you disagree with someone’s opinions, and another to say they are wrong.

When I was a child, busy learning how the world wags and forming my ethical and social principles, we were at war (that would be the Second World War) and people on the home front tended to be civil and polite in discussing politics and world affairs. To this day, some seventy years later, when I think someone is wrong, I tend to say that I disagree. But I’m here to tell you that the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party people are wrong. Just plain, flat-out wrong.

Let’s start with the fact that they claim to be carrying on a tradition begun at Griffin’s Wharf when, on Dec. 16, 1773, a mob (there’s no more accurate word) of colonists boarded three British ships and dumped chests of tea overboard into Boston Harbor. Today’s tea party-goers seem to think their colonial predecessors dumped the goods because they thought they were paying too much in taxes to King George.

But in doing that, they equate their battle cry, “Taxed enough already,” with the colonists’ “No taxation without representation.” No kid with a full complement of functioning brain cells got past fourth grade without knowing what that slogan, and the loosely related Gadsden flag, which the teabag people like to wrap themselves in, are meant to signify. The British Parliament was deciding what taxes the colonists should pay; the newly-minted Americans had nothing to say about it. Today’s complainers, the people who jazzed themselves up by sending tea bags to members of Congress, have at the Federal level one representative and two senators each, just like the rest of us Americans do.

In the interests of intellectual honesty, I must admit of one similarity between the colonial tea party people and today’s. To some extent one group was, and the other is, manipulated by some of the richest people around.

In Boston, it was the tea merchants, some of whom smuggled tea from Holland and sold it at prices far lower than what was legally imported from England. When Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773 reduced the price of legally imported tea, the prosperous Boston merchants faced the loss of a lucrative business. It was in their interests, then, that the tea in Boston Harbor never reach a colonial teapot.

Today’s tea party people, who probably think that tea grows in tea bags, are continually primed and pumped by groups of special interests – think health insurance executives for starters, then add certain multimillionaire media people whose names would best be forgotten – who think they deserve to keep all the money they can gather, and the public be damned.

Are the demonstrators at the April 15 march on Washington really taxed enough already? If, as they claim, they’re truly representative of the nation as a whole, some 47% of them won’t have paid any income taxes at all this year. They either won’t have earned enough, or their tax credits and deductions will reduce their obligation to zero, according to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan analysis organization.

And again, if they represent the mainstream, roughly 60% of them already get more in benefits from the government than they pay in taxes, the Tax Foundation says.

Granted that some of these people live in hope that someday they will be rich enough to have to pay a lot in taxes, which is pathetic, given the state of the economy and the fact that income in the US is the most unevenly distributed among all 26 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – that is, after taxes the gap between the richest and poorest is greater here than anywhere in the Western world.

Before taxes, income distribution in the US is almost right plunk in the middle of the OECD spectrum. That doesn’t mean that it’s equitable, or humane, or anything near that. When you have a country in which CEOs can be paid more than 200 times what goes to one of their ordinary employees, well, you decide whether that’s equitable, humane, or anything near that.

But after taxes? There’s nothing to decide. Income distribution in the US is obscene. And these taxed-enough-already people think they’re going to be rich someday? The odds of that happening are roughly the same a the odds of winning the Power Ball lottery. Approaching zilch.

Unfortunately, those who aren’t being outright manipulated into identifying with the moneyed class may have another reason to object to the thought of paying taxes. (I say “the thought” since we know that more than half of them are on the beneficiary, not donor, side of the taxation equation.)

There was a time when Americans considered paying taxes an act of patriotism, a sign of civic responsibility. Vice President Joe Biden, who is six years younger than I (which means he can’t remember Pearl Harbor Day or, probably, any of WWII, which ended when he was three) remember those days. He said so during the 2008 campaign. His assertion was labeled a “gaffe” in the media and even, heaven help us, by the Obama campaign. I was disgusted then, and am still.

Despite their claims of patriotism, the TEA people have no sense of civic responsibility, no belief that we are responsible for the well being of anyone but themselves.

A New York Times poll released on Tax Day Eve, April 14, summarizes its findings this way:

In some ways, Tea Party supporters look like the general public. For instance, despite their allusions to Revolutionary War-era tax protesters, most describe the amount they paid in taxes this year as “fair.” Most send their children to public schools, do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president, and, despite their push for smaller government, think that Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost. They are actually more likely than the general public to have returned their census forms, despite some conservative leaders urging a boycott.

Their fierce animosity toward Washington, and the president in particular, is rooted in deep pessimism about the direction of the country and the conviction that the policies of the Obama administration are disproportionately directed at helping the poor rather than the middle class or the rich.

The rest of the survey is here.

In the 1950s, when Dwight Eisenhower brought the nation out of recession by constructing the Interstate highway system, nobody was bleating about big government then. Maybe when a Republican does it, it’s OK.

In the late 1970s the Department of Transportation came out with a national study that said some vast majority of our country’s bridges were in disrepair to the point of being unsafe. I was a reporter in Massachusetts at the time and there were all kinds of good legislative intentions, but very little money, aimed at our bridges. “Conservatives” were in control (the quotation marks are there to encourage you to wonder: what could be more conservative than repairing bridges?) and few elected officials would buck the skinflint tide.

One reason for the lack of leadership was named Howard Jarvis, proponent of the Proposition 13 referendum in 1978 California. We’re telling the government, “Screw you,” he was quoted as saying at the time. Prop 13 restricted state and local governments’ ability to levy property taxes and required a 2/3 vote of the legislature to raise taxes at the state level. Gleefully slitting their own throats, Californians adopted Proposition 13 and it’s with them still today.

How’s that working out for them? California faces budget paralysis every year and is the worst-case financial disaster in the US. Last summer it was forced to pay its bills with IOUs, instead of cash money. There doesn’t seem to be a leader with the cojones to propose repealing the law.

Actually, I don’t think it would be a disaster if California was invaded and annexed by aliens from outer space. Not only did the state give us Prop 13, which has been replicated in a variety of forms in other states, including my own dear Commonwealth of Massachusetts (and you think we’re a bunch of liberals,) but it also inflicted on us Ronald Reagan, with his virulent blasts at “welfare queens” and, by implication, the entire American ethic that said we take care of each other. People used to say of Reagan that no matter what you thought of him as president, you had to admit he was a “decent man.” I admitted no such thing, and in his case I make an exception to the dictum that you shouldn’t say anything bad of the dead.

They say faulty design led to the rush hour collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis on August 1, 2007, dumping dozens or cars and their passengers into the Mississippi River. Don’t ever forget this: Cheap design is the offspring of insufficient funding. No civil engineer would willingly design a bridge with support plates half as thick as they should be (or a tunnel with ceiling tiles improperly supported so they fall onto a car, as happened in Boston’s Big Dig, killing a female passenger). An engineer whose resume includes such a project will be hard put to find another job. These things are built after a rigorous bidding process; in most cases, the low bid wins. Subtly, not in so many words, the message goes out to the design team, if you don’t cut corners, you cut our profits. Economize.

There’s a railroad bridge in the town where I go to shop that I go to great lengths not to drive under. If you do, and you look up, you see the sky. Some day that bridge is going to come down. The railroad is responsible and won’t fix it. The state could do it and charge the railroad. But there’s not enough money to fix even state bridges. Someday the trainmen, and maybe some poor soul driving underneath will pay the price.

Taxed enough already?

I’d like to see some of the elders among the tax haters give their social security checks back to the US Treasury’s general fund. I’d like to know what they’re going to say when there’s not enough money to maintain the roads they drive to the shopping mall, when the police don’t come when they get hurt in the accident caused when they tried to dodge a hip-deep pothole, when someone they know strokes out because there’s no ambulance available, or when the local hospital closes and it’s 100 miles to the nearest one.

Taxed enough already? Then think about this:

When it comes to income taxes, no country has a higher rate than Denmark. When it comes to rating happiness, no citizens rate higher than the Danes. The US is slightly below the median for income tax rates. I don’t know where we stand in terms of happiness, but I think the prevalence of antidepressant-taking Americans tells us something.

Taxed enough already? Then how about moving to Mexico? You’ll save lots on your taxes, and if you don’t want to educate your kids or be protected from random drug shootings you won’t have to worry about what the bribes cost.

Maybe Mexico doesn’t appeal to you. Don’t you hate the restrictions that government places on you? You’ll just love Somalia. It has no government and no taxes. You’d be free there. You want to be free, don’t you? Go. Please go.

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2 Responses to “Taxed Enough? Already?”

  1. I think Somalia has a few too many black people for the average tea bagger

  2. Was too bust doing my taxes to think about how taxed I am. Buton the news I heard that 47% of people pay no taxes. Then I saw Jon Stewart’s rendition of sending no tax payers to the military, OMG I nearly toppled off my chair laughing. Sending my mother to the middle east in full camo gear, no less.

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