Monday, August 22, 2011

Taxes and the Common Good

The other day, the first day of school for my son, he asked me why he had to take a different bus to school. He asked me why the bus didn't pick him up and drop him off where it had for the previous three years. I responded, immediately, "Taxes". Then I explained my position to him. See, people want to keep the money that's in their bank account. People want to be able to hold on to the money that they receive in their paycheck. And since taxes necessarily take money out of people's bank accounts and/or paychecks, the electorate often votes against tax increases and elects politicians who promise to lower taxes.

Now that all sounds fine ~ it's good (in a capitalist economy) for a person to have more money in their bank account. They can purchase more, and (since we tend to equate value with financial wealth in this country) people with more money are worth more.

But we tend to forget the other side of the equation. We tend to forget that when tax revenue goes down, our access to services goes down as well. We tend to forget that when we pay less in taxes, the slack has to get taken up somewhere else.

To my simple brain, it works like this: if I paid a little more in taxes, my son could still take the same bus he took last year. But I get to save some in taxes, so I have money in my bank account so that I can pay for the gas it costs for me to drive him to his new bus stop. Of course, he still walks or rides his bike to the bus stop right now, so it's not a factor. At least, it's not a factor until it gets cold. I'm more likely to make him walk two blocks in twenty degree weather than I am to make him walk ten. So this winter, when pollution is a bigger problem here in Denver, more people will be starting cold car engines to drive kids to school. So, since we don't want to pay more taxes, we find ourselves paying for more for gas, and paying more (in the future) for healthcare.

Obviously this is simplistic. Obviously there are other factors to consider. Obviously it's no big deal for my kids to go .75 miles to the bus stop instead of .25 miles. But it's also obviously true (at least to me) that we're scared of even thinking about paying more taxes in this country; and to me, that's an unreasonable fear, since if we don't pay taxes for services, we'll end up paying for those services some other way.

Some people may say it's better that individuals have control over their money. I say, though, what about the common good. When, in this country, did it become better, or more noble, to take care of self to the exclusion of the other.

And it seems like many people who advocate so strongly for lower taxes also call themselves Christian. When did Christians become so publicly selfish? When did we stop advocating for the 'least of these' so that we ourselves could stay rich?

I'm no tax expert, but it seems to me that our selfishness is sinful. I will almost always vote for tax increases, and then work to make sure the government is using our common funds for the common good.


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