A couple of days ago, my class preparation required that I review an early American time-period that included both Shays Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. Both–as those of you familiar with this particular time period will recall–were uprisings sparked by resistance to taxes.
Some things really never change.
I am not sufficiently familiar with citizens’ attitudes in other countries to be certain of this, but it certainly seems that this characteristic American anti-tax animus is unique; a piece of a none-too-attractive “American exceptionalism.” (When was the last time you saw Norwegians mounting a tax protest?) Americans are allergic to taxes, no matter how reasonable, no matter how necessary.
There are a couple of problems with this deeply-ingrained resentment. The first and most obvious is that it is unrealistic–not to mention unseemly–to demand services for which we are unwilling to pay. Someone once noted that taxes are the dues we pay for civilization, and I think that’s right. But the same Americans who would never dream of joining a country club and refusing to pay the dues needed to maintain the golf course and hire the help evidently have a very different reaction to assessments for membership in the polity. (Much of that animus seems based upon distaste for their fellow “members”–perhaps the problem is that we are fellow-denizens of a “club” they wouldn’t have chosen..?)
The second problem with the “pox on all taxes” attitude is that it focuses attention on the wrong issues. Governments require revenue in order to provide services; that’s a given. The questions we really need to ask are procedural: what is the best way to raise the dollars needed? Is the tax system fair and equitable? Does it inadvertently encourage unwanted behaviors (outsourcing of jobs, or shielding of assets in off-shore accounts) or discourage desirable ones? Are units of government operating efficiently?
It’s hard to ask those questions–let alone debate the answers–when people are whining about “redistribution,” and complaining about paying their share.