In the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) world, we often say that the purpose of STEM is to create a new generation of critical thinkers and problem solvers. These skills are critical to arrive at well thought out, analytical decisions.
Over the years I’ve noticed that in the political arena, we often see a problem, jump to a conclusion and then spend the rest of the time trying to justify our decision by finding as much support for our initial conclusion as possible. Emotional decision making has a place, but not for issues with long term consequences.
Above the doorways of the Capitol in Washington DC, there are quotes from notable Americans. I’m reminded of one of those quotes on a regular basis, “the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding”. (Louis Brandeis)
Recently I received an email from a local elected official making the case for a new tax. In our dialogue, he suggested it was as close to a “painless” tax as possible.
In the spirit of critical thinking, here’s how I”d evaluate this painless tax.
Why taxes? Taxes are the government taking your hard-earned money and spending it for you. Taxation at its core is coercive. A large group of people pay for something and a small group of people benefit. Many times it makes perfect sense. Taxes to educate our children are accepted because of a core value to educate all children regardless of their ability to pay. Taxes for roads are necessary because it allows trade, commerce and the ability to move from one place to another. But long ago we crossed a line between taxation for essential services and taxation for the non-essential.
America’s history with taxation? Unfair taxation is what America is all about. Taxation without representation brought about the American revolution. Remember King George III. You know, the Motherland. England. The King. He viewed the American colonies as a profit center to a far-flung empire. He imposed laws and taxes at will. Finally, our forefathers had had enough. They had a Boston Tea Party and a spark ignited that changed the world. What emerged was a free society built upon individual God-given rights.
Why be judicious in imposing taxes? America is built on a foundation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Every time we tax, we take a small bit of all of freedom away from the people.
Why new taxes? Our elected officials often hear from those who want new government services. Vocal constituents demand it. You can’t figure out how you’ve lived without it. Proponents make the tax seem cool. Think carbon taxes. Pay a tax. Save the planet. Advocates focus on the benefits. Like fiber to the home. Fastest access ever to the internet. Supporters minimize the cost. Its just the cost of a Big Mac or Big Gulp or whatever.
Why not new taxes? Seldom considered are those who can ill afford it. The elderly widow living on a fixed income. The single mother who works two jobs just to pay the bills. The family already struggling to pay the bills.
If we truly believe in strong families, we will allow them to spend their own money. Instead of having to take a second job or take both parents out of the home, maybe mom and dad can be with their kids. Maybe the elderly widow won’t have to use a reverse mortgage to survive. Maybe the single mom will get a few more good nights’ sleep.
Where is the balance? The U.S. Constitution was all about finding balance. Balance between the federal government and the states. Balance between government and the individual. There were a few essential government services that had to be funded, but for the most part individuals were free to maximize their liberty and seek their hopes and dreams.
What else should we be asking? What is causing the new problem? Why have we been able to do without until now? Who will benefit? Is that the same group that will pay for it? What are possible solutions that avoid a tax increase? If this is a priority, what will we cut in the budget to fund this?
Yes, there are times to tax and to increase taxes. But those times should be rare. Elected officials should live within their means. Families have to live by that creed and so should government. Make hard choices. Prioritize. Fund what you can fund with what you have. Increase funding in one place, then cut somewhere else. Sometimes officials pass the buck to the people and put the tax on the ballot saying the will of the people should decide, but in Utah elections where at times not even 10% of registered voter cast ballots, the people aren’t deciding. Special interests are.
I think my well-intentioned representative got more than he bargained for. Hopefully, he’ll keep reaching out.