Friday, May 24, 2013

Taxes and America’s Social Contract

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The American social contract is threadbare in certain parts of America. Areas of this great country are falling into disrepair, dissolution as if under a spell . In places like the Camden, New Jersey and now Josephine County, Oregon, public safety has been compromised by the failure of will to raise taxes. Below you will find a very disturbing report on the latter situation from Oregon Public Broadcasting. It dramatically highlights what can go wrong when citizens can't make the connection between good government and the tax revenue it takes to have it. First, let's consider the various segments of our population who oppose raising taxes.

There are those who see themselves through the lens of American individualism. They value self-reliance and see this as a patriotic duty. They tend to think less of those who are more collaborative or more dependent or unsuccessful. They tend to discount the contribution of the public commons to their own welfare and don't often recognize how massively interdependent our advanced society really is. They believe that less government is best for everyone. These folks are less willing to contribute to tax supported government services other than for military defense. They are ideological individualist. They may include libertarians. On the extreme fringe they may include anarchists or survivalists.

There are those who are suspicious or uncomfortable with American pluralism. These folks most often live in parts of the country where there is little diversity or only a single other minority group. But folks who hold this belief can also be found everywhere. They believe a disproportionate amount of their taxes go to support other ethnic or cultural groups whose members don't share their same values or work ethic. They sometimes fear other groups are taking advantage of government largess. As a result, they are more resentful of paying taxes and more critical of wasteful government spending. They are pluralism-adverse. At the extremes this group may include racists and hate group. A highly nationalistic subset of this pluralism adverse group believes the federal government has already broken faith with the people and threat our liberty. For them, paying taxes is akin to paying tribute to a foreign potentate.

There are some religious fundamentalists who believe all secular government is evil. For them, anything that expands government is evil as well, including raising taxes.

There are those who believe taxes compete or interfere with commerce and the free market. They think that taxes only reduce the capital available for business and contribute to government regulations. They don't see government spending as stimulating for the economy. For them, the provision of services to those who aren't successful contributors to the economy is an unfair redistribution of wealth. This group are more likely to have higher incomes and to pride themselves in their ability to avoid paying taxes. In the extreme they tend to see society as made of the have and have nots, the makers and the takers.

I believe all these groups are being agitated and molded into an anti-government political movement to reduce our government's power to regulate powerful corporate interests.

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