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Taxes are one of those things that everybody loves to hate.  Tax collectors are the perennial bad guys, a picture of a 1040 form is squeezed between a picture of Hitler and an MRE on the blog StuffNobodyLikes, and the certainty of death and taxes is widely agreed upon. The Beatles, angered by the high tax rate in England, even wrote a song about taxes (which, allegedly, some post offices actually play on April 15).   "If you drive a car,  I'll tax the street; If you try to sit,  I'll tax your seat," sings George Harrison. Of course, this doesn't acknowledge the fact that taxes made the road possible.

But taxes, when viewed from a progressive perspective, just ain't so bad.   Taxes have funded our highways, our roads, and our infrastructure.  They've funded scientific development, the courts, communication systems, firefighters and and water supplies.  They fund the FDA to keep our food and drugs safe, public education, and public health and emergency services.  Simply put, taxes are what has enabled this country to grow, function, and succeed.

In fact, taxes have in many ways made the United States what it is today and (gasp) even made it possible for the rich to succeed and get richer.  As George Lakoff and Bruce Budner wrote on, it's not just the poor and middle class, but the rich who have benefited from taxes as well.

"Consider Bill Gates. He started Microsoft as a college dropout and has become the world's richest person. Though he has undoubtedly benefited from his unusual intelligence and business acumen, he could not have created or sustained his personal wealth without the common wealth. The legal system protected Microsoft's intellectual property and contracts. The tax-supported financial infrastructure enabled him to access capital markets and trade his stock in a market in which investors have confidence. He built his company with many employees educated in public schools and universities. Tax-funded research helped develop computer science and the internet. Trade laws negotiated and enforced by the government protect his ability to sell his products abroad. These are but a few of the ways in which Mr. Gates' accumulation of wealth was empowered by the common wealth and by taxation."

Although taxes didn't create Gates' wealth, they certainly allowed him, and millions of others, to succeed.  "We think of taxes as investments that give us dividends," writes the Rockridge Institute.

Part of changing the public perspective on taxes, though, isn't just realizing all the good that taxes have brought about.  We need to reframe the debate, using positive, progressive language to talk about taxes.  We need to drop the phrase "tax relief" and replace it with "tax equity."  We need to talk about taxes as what has driven, and not destroyed, our economy.

Granted, the current tax system -- and the way that taxpayer money is being spent -- is far from perfect. An article in yesterday's Times notes that a conservative estimate of the amount of money spent on the Iraq War would cover the cost of Hillary Clinton's universal health care plan or Barack Obama's health plan and proposal to help people facing foreclosure.   And even the super-rich Warren Buffet -- who says that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary -- admits that the tax code needs some help. "The taxation system has tilted towards the rich and away from the middle class," he says in this video.  

Robert Borosage and Celinda Lake write about a more progressive tax code in The American Prospect:

"Simplify the tax code and make it more progressive. Tax income on wealth at the same rate as income on work. Give low-wage and middle-income earners a break while raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Invest in areas vital to our economy. That would help generate demand and produce jobs here at home rather than chasing them overseas."

And it's not just the federal tax system that needs some help.  As Amy Traub has written, New York state's tax system needs a serious overhaul.  She writes,  

"The fact is, New York is the most unequal state in the country, and our regressive tax system only makes things worse. We’ve been cutting taxes for high-income households for years and now we’ve got a gaping budget shortfall. Raising taxes on the less-than-half-a-percent of New Yorkers who benefited most from the state’s economic good times is the least we can do."

So, when you write out your check to the IRS this year or stand in a mile-long post office line, remember that although filling out forms and waiting in lines isn't any fun, that taxes themselves are, in fact, a good thing.  If only George Harrison was still around to rewrite "Taxman" from a more progressive perspective...

Originally posted to coryDMI on Tue Apr 15, 2008 at 04:47 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The tax code actually does need to be simplified (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JugOPunch, jlms qkw, Pris from LA

    but I suspect that the CPAs and tax firms like H&R Block would lobby against that.  LOL. :)

  •  Well I've always thought that it was my patriotic (5+ / 0-)

    duty to pay my taxes.  Although, I don't like the fact that so many of our tax dollars are going to the Iraq war and other corporate chronie friends of the Bush administration.  I'll feel much better about paying my taxes after Obama has been sworn in.

  •  I see and accept a need for taxes. (6+ / 0-)

    Way I always put it, "You have to pay to play". We drive on roads, we have fire departments and schools and police and things like that, and these things cost money. I have no problem paying taxes, and the wife and I make sure we pay plenty every year, which usually results in a sizable refund.

    That being said, while I do feel a civic duty to pay my taxes, I also demand that they be spent as wisely as possible. I find it infuriating that the people who most resist paying their fair share of taxes are also the ones who most want to squander those tax dollars on foreign misadventures.

  •  I paid a monster bill yesterday (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    decafdyke, Me Again, Pris from LA

    I wouldn't mind so much if it wasn't going to be used to torture children.

    To me, the absolute most important issue ANY of us has, and this nation has, is that we are currently being ruled by a gang of immoral war criminals. -Hornito

    by discocarp on Tue Apr 15, 2008 at 05:25:18 AM PDT

  •  60 percent on luxury incomes (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pris from LA

    Let's start pushing now for a top marginal tax rate of 60 percent. Call it "60 for justice." It won't break our economy any worse than the current and prior administrations already have; the top marginal tax rate in the 1950s and '60s was 70 to 90 percent. Our fat cats can afford 60. They owe it to us for hoarding the spoils of two decades of productivity growth.

    "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk." --Ian McDonald

    by Geenius at Wrok on Tue Apr 15, 2008 at 05:58:09 AM PDT

  •  Thank you for this (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DMIer, BYw, Pris from LA

    I always make the car analogy during tax discussion.  This is a great way to explain that, yes, your taxes do go for something.  Because the usual response I get when talking with someone about taxes goes something like "The government doesn't give me anything, it just takes!"  To which I'll ask "How did you get here?"  And the answer is usually the car or the road.  It doesn't change minds, I'll admit, but it at least gets them thinking.

    I like the New York analogy too.  A very unfair tax system here on many levels.  Our new budget may have to be fixed for a larger deficit later this year; but is anybody going to re-introduced the "Millionaire's" tax that brings them up from 6.85% to 7.7% for income?  That's our top bracket.  Oh, and who's going to do anything about the fact that nearly 90% of our county property taxes go to fund a federal program: Medicaid.

    You can't avoid birth, so there's maternity care.  You can't avoid death, so there's hospice.  But what do we have in place to make our taxes leave us with a sense of dignity and painlessness?

    Great diary! Tip/Rec'd and I hope you make it through the daily HillBama rush!

    Three Just Words: "Join, Or Die." -Franklin, 1754; "Yes, We Can!" -Obama, 2008.

    by Soundpolitic on Tue Apr 15, 2008 at 06:59:44 AM PDT

  •  I passed the CPA exam. As a progressive, I can't (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BYw, Pris from LA

    think of a better way to join the nation wealth building pool than by paying my taxes and filling the pool.

    The rich like doing belly flops into the pool, splash out the water and leave less water for the rest. The don't create jobs. We supply skills that they need. Without our skills, tough shit, especially when the backdoor low paying Visa's go bye bye.

    ", syrup ,..., shit ,..., hotcakes." Meteor Blades
    John McCain

    by JugOPunch on Tue Apr 15, 2008 at 08:32:33 PM PDT

  •  This is excellent. I'm sad that it has (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BYw, Pris from LA

    recieved such little respect.

  •  Ho ho ho merry tax day! (0+ / 0-)

    that's gonna be my new slogan. Every year i'm going to take the oppuritny  to remind people if they hate taxes, they hate america :D

    -10.00, -7.13. I am to the left what objectivism is to the right. (Also I am 21! forgive my occasionally militant beliefs!)

    by daeros on Wed Apr 16, 2008 at 01:15:40 AM PDT

  •  we hear "No taxation without representation" but (0+ / 0-)

    do you ever think that there is "No representation without taxation?"

    Think about it. In countries with lots of wealth like the Oil rich countries you don't find representative government generally. Iran is staggering towards it but that's about it. In countries that are too poor for taxation, again you don't find representative government , although again, some are staggering towards it, think Kenya.

    When you aren't invested you don't feel ownership. And when you don't feel ownership, you don't care or take care.

    Castro, when asked by an American journalist on a ride from the airport, why the public buildings in communist countries were so shabby, responded ~ "When everybody owns it, nobody owns it." Remarkable insight.

    Hillary: channeling her inner Repuglican: Free at last

    by samddobermann on Sun Apr 20, 2008 at 02:39:06 PM PDT

  •  Also, Taxes are the dues we pay as (0+ / 0-)

    Americans. They are how we express our patriotism.

    Hillary: channeling her inner Repuglican: Free at last

    by samddobermann on Sun Apr 20, 2008 at 02:40:51 PM PDT

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