Taxes are a tough topic. For some time now, many have espoused a philosophy that lower taxes are always better. It is time to re-evaluate that viewpoint. We need to determine what level of tax is appropriate for the services we are receiving and collectively agree to pay it. The products and services we want must be paid for.
We have already received more than we acknowledge.
While no one, certainly including me, wishes to pay more than necessary I also understand that taxes have an appropriate role and purpose. The continuous desire to always reduce taxes seems to me to go together with a quintessential American pride in the self-made man notion. If you feel that you alone made whatever success you enjoy happen all on your own then you likely also feel that you don't owe a debt to the society in which you live. You'd be wrong in that assessment.
It feels good to believe that what good outcomes we have enjoyed are entirely due to our own efforts. Not something that is, at least in part, derived from the society we participate in. Others are helping us.
It seems to me that we've lost a sense of togetherness in America. That notion that we are all in this together and owe each other and the society that supports us something. Really no one is a "self-made" man. We enjoy inherit advantages and a head start on whatever we achieve because of what had been provided to us--largely without cost. A justice system that enforces known rules, education for all, infrastructure like roads, air transport services (e.g., airports, air traffic control, etc.), water, power, sewer that support our personal health, and the list goes on. All of this and so much more come together right from our first day to aid and support us. By the time we are adults we owe a debt to the society that fostered our success.
One way we repay that debt is taxes. Doing so maintains for future generations the same advantages that we profit from.
President Theodore Roosevelt summed up the role of taxes in a letter to Congress. “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society,” he wrote, invoking former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. He then added his own knife twist: “Too many individuals, however, want the civilization at a discount.”
We resist because of the belief that others are receiving more than a fair share.
President Ronald Reagan introduced, or at least popularized, the idea of the "welfare queen". Suggesting that those "enjoying" cash or free services from government are undeserving exploiters of the system and, importantly, the idea behind the term represents the majority of recipients. Similarly, stories of others getting what they seeming don't deserve make for very popular news items that get repeated. Complaining about such abuse is the means we use to reinforce the firm belief that we work and earn what we get but others don't. We simply don't recognize the issues others face often because we have no experience or reference in our own life.
We do not understand who pays what and how much.
Most people agree that it seems right and just to pay more tax the more successful a person has become. Both because of the availability of means and the group funded benefits that produced the result.
Take the estate tax, which was established in 1916, and has never quite worked the way Congress intended. Over the years the rates have changed, but the goal of taxing the wealthiest Americans has remained. This year (2022), the federal estate tax applies to couples worth more than $24.12 million.
The estate tax has eroded to the point that last year the estates of just 1,275 people in the whole country owed the tax—down from a peak of 139,000 in 1976—despite historic amassing of wealth by the very richest.
The fortunes of Andrew Mellon and his peers have proved so durable over the past century that today one-third of the top 50 wealthiest Americans on the Forbes list are heirs.
We need a clearer understanding leading to a willingness to contribute "our fair share" not just take "our fair share".
We have a shared individual responsibility to others. A renewed understanding that we are all in this together is existential to the continued existence of a democratic country like the USA. Our commonality as citizens is not a shared culture, ethnicity, or descendancy. What we share is a common belief in concepts—individual freedom, democracy, rule of law, and shared responsibility to each other. Our democracy works best when driven by compromise around a feeling of "I can live with that", not "I get my way no matter what". We need leaders that help us gain understand, not intentionally mislead us for their own gain.