Before Thanksgiving weekend 2011 passes into history, let us be thankful for people who pay their taxes, because they are supporting the people who don’t.
Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Indeed, civilization cannot exist without taxes, by which we pay for services including national defense, clean water, public safety, education and, increasingly, health care. People are likelier to accept their share of the tax burden when such services are efficiently provided and the taxes are fairly administered.
The exact day in human history when taxes were invented will never be known. Tax resistance probably began the same day. Cynicism, anger, frustration and skepticism about taxes has been a global phenomenon in every age. Resentment against taxes played a part in many historical uprisings. In 1794, settlers west of the Alleghenies rebelled against a new federal tax designed to help pay down the national debt. President George Washington recruited an army of 15,000 men to fight tax resistance. Many politicians today cultivate their constituencies by opposing this source of their own power.
A national income tax was considered in 1814, to pay for defense spending during the War of 1812. It was not enacted because that war ended just one year later, in 1815.
Cost estimates for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to date range from 1 trillion to 5 trillion dollars. No special tax to cover these expenses has been imposed. Is it patriotic to saddle future generations with the costs of today’s wars? They are being added to our national debt.
A recent article in Forbes Magazine, “Rise of the Shadow Economy: Second Largest Economy in the World” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/benzingainsights/2011/11/07/rise-of-the-shadow-economy-second-largest-economy-in-the-world/), faults governments for taxation and bureaucratic regulation inhibiting healthy commerce. “Of course, the black market extends to illegal activities fitting the characteristics of classical crimes such as burglary, murder, robbery, drug dealing, but much of the shadow economy is made up of individuals who are not what average Americans would consider criminals,” according to the article. Workers at flea markets, roadside produce stands, bake sales, babysitters and kids selling lemonade are presented as “embracing their entrepreneurial spirit … and seeking to better their lives.”
Assuming that the many sectors around the world that are currently granted special tax benefits will continue to enjoy them, and that the percentage of the human population that survives and even thrives in the shadow economy continues to grow, who pays for civilization? Taxpayers.
This Thanksgiving, we should all be grateful to the apparently shrinking portion of the human constituency who pay their taxes. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”