Friday, April 14, 2006

Thoughts on taxes and ethics

Well, I've finally finished my taxes-- whew! I did a quick estimate months ago and knew I'd owe, so I didn't rush. I owe $250 to the IRS and $60 to Illinois, which I'm pretty satisfied with-- a big refund is, in everyone's favorite phrase, "an interest-free loan to the government," so it's good I didn't end up with one... but getting surprised by a large amount owed is no fun, either!

It's an interesting time of year, because everyone has such different thoughts about taxes-- really, about the government. (I've done a bad job of keeping track of the posts I've read on this subject, but I may edit this to add them to the bottom as I dig them up. If you've written a post on your thoughts about paying taxes that you'd like me to add, let me know!)

I am very, very torn. In some ways, I feel a lot like Her at Make Love Not Debt:

Call me a communist, but taxes make me feel all warm and fuzzy. I like the idea of everyone in America sharing what they have and working together for the common good. Of course I’m not naive: I know that not everyone pays their fair share, and a great deal of tax revenue is mismanaged or used to better the lives of only a select few. But when the majority of Americans make a significant contribution, amazing things can happen!

I definitely believe that creating a just and healthy society full of happy individuals requires that we all pitch in. Whether it's those things that we all benefit from as individuals (like public services), or the kinds of programs that help the disadvantaged or unlucky among us, I think we all end up better off when we all share the costs and responsibilities involved in supporting the common good.

But then I read blogs like The Picket Line, written by a tax resister:

The U.S. government is imprisoning the harmless, butchering the innocent, and ruling like a criminal syndicate over a country that dreams of itself as a democracy. And it’s doing this in part because I and people like me are paying for it. I can be of better use to my country than this... I hope to reduce my taxable income, both by stopping the flow of my income and through whatever clever deductions I can find, to the point where I pay no federal income tax this year.

There is so much about how the government actually, practically works which I abhor. It underfunds virtually all of the programs I think are most important, and spends huge amounts of money on militarization, war, imprisonment, corporate subsidies and giveways, and interest payments on a spectacularly fiscally irresponsible debt. I'm particularly upset with the use of my tax dollars under the current administration, but many of the underlying issues have been more or less present for decades, and it would be naive to expect things to change dramatically.

I'd like to think of my tax money as providing a great education to children that helps all of them to succeed regardless of their background; as funding subsidies that help all parents afford reliable, high-quality child care that allows them to work and helps their kids grow and develop; as helping all Americans have access to health insurance so that no one's health and happiness suffers needlessly due to being uninsured; as feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and caring for those who struggle to care for themselves and their familes. I guess the best I can do right now is to know that part of my taxes are going to those things, even though they're being done less well than I believe they should-- and to know that if I were to try to avoid paying taxes, all evidence shows that it's these sorts of programs that are cut when tax revenue is down, while the ones I hate continue to grow and grow under any circumstances.

So, those are my thoughts on the ethical issues around paying taxes. (Although I have another post in mind regarding tax brackets and progressive vs regressive taxation; keep an eye out.) What are yours?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You can do what many tax resisters do: they fill out and send in their 1040 forms like everyone else, but instead of writing a check to the U.S. Treasury, they write out a check to their favorite charity instead. That way they get the warm fuzzies about chipping in with people on projects of social benefit, and they get the warm fuzzies about not helping some pack of corporate vultures profit by helping the U.S. military use explosives to tear the arms off of a little boy half a world away.