I am not now and have never been truly poor. The thousands of dollars of taxes I spend each year are not anywhere near enough to make me poor. I find it unlikely that taxes alone ever will be. This position is one of profound privilege in the world.
An awful lot of people feel offended or angry about their taxes. I feel differently. It isn’t that I fail to question whether some people are freeloaders that take advantage of me (although my opinions about their identities are unorthodox). It isn’t that I agree with all the ways our tax dollars are spent. There is ample opportunity for scorn within our government at pretty much any level you care to look.
But my taxes are proof that I support my community. My taxes pay for schools and medics. I am proud of my taxes. My taxes are proof that I support my country. My taxes pay for courts and soldiers. To hell with Memorial Day flags and mattress sales (which is a rabbit-hole unto itself), I feel at my most patriotic on Tax Day.
This time of year I frequently hear about how important money is to motivate people. A co-worker put it to me this way a few years back: ‘Say my parents work harder and get a $50k bonus. Where is the motivation to work so hard if the government is just going to take half of it away?’ At the time, we were both making $25k gross. My response then was, I think, the most succinct way I have ever made this point: ‘Setting aside the fact that even the highest marginal tax rate is nowhere near 50%, if you honestly feel like $25k is not incentive to work hard, can I have yours?’ It hadn’t occurred to hir to compare the two numbers. The magnitude of income inequality within a single generation of the same family didn’t register.
The thing is, it needs to register. We can’t operate a national economy where money that makes one group think ‘maybe I can afford/will have to sell the second car’ is, in another group, more than every object they have owned and service they have used this year. Currency streamlines the economy because it represents something, it means something that is roughly the same to everybody. It shows that you contributed to society, how much you contributed, and how much of our economic spoils you are entitled to as a result. Work harder/longer/smarter to get more in proportion to the additional labor and we can still make sense of money. But if the money represents fundamentally different things to different people, it does not work.
Income inequality on the magnitude that we have now makes the whole enterprise of currency nonsensical on the large scale. Arguing with someone over how to make up holes in the budget makes sense if they have half of what you have or double what you have. But if they have 1%? 0.1%? Nobody believes you worked a thousand times longer to get that (seriously, there are less than 9000 hours in a year), so currency doesn’t mean the same thing anymore. Even if you did, the idea that it would work to get the poor to shoulder a larger burden is comical.
Poverty is buying 20$ shoes that last a year instead of 50$ shoes that last for five.
Poverty is living in the shadow of a hospital for years and not knowing what goes on inside.
Poverty is falling down because insurance doesn’t cover a chunk of rubber to fix your cane.
Poverty is paying double for a gallon of milk with half the shelf life.
Poverty is forcing yourself to sleep on your days off to save calories.
Poverty is not calling the cops because you can’t risk being late for work and it takes hours.
Poverty is buying a small soda at McDonald’s and adding 20 packets of sugar while everyone within sight stares.
The little I pay to the government is not something to resent.