When it comes to the American economy, there is one fundamental lie and one fundamental truth and it is up to you which you choose to believe. Tax Day is really a chance to ask: “Which side am I on?”
The lie is that if the maximum freedom and, thus, maximum benefits are given to the super-rich elites, ultimately everyone will win because the super-rich will create companies and create jobs and buy things and that will benefit the rest of us. It’s been called various things over various times — Reaganomics, trickle down economics, free market capitalism. But mostly it’s just been called bullshit.
The average five-year-old could tell you the truth — that if you want to create the most amount of opportunity and prosperity for the most amount of people, it makes much more sense to spread opportunity and prosperity from the get-go rather than give it all to the top and pray it will spread. Bullshit economists — who are mostly from elite backgrounds, educated in elite institutions, and invested in preserving the elite status quo — have been trying for decades to persuade us to believe their lie rather than the common sense truth. Their lie led our economy right into the toilet, but the bullshit economists and their Wall Street pals are still scrambling to convince us that they’re the solution, not the problem.
The anti-tax agenda perpetuates the lie. In a currently uneven economy where wealth and privilege easily reproduce themselves while it’s harder and harder to climb from the bottom or the middle up the economic ladder, taxes are the primary way we as a society redistribute money to all the hardworking Americans who deserve their fair share and a fair shake. Sure, those Harvard-educated bank CEOs work hard, but do they work 300 times harder than you? Their pay is based not on hard work but on bullshit economics that favor the already-rich. Taxes are our way of saying, “Hey, good for you for making a bazillion dollars, but since you’ll still be rich with a bajillion, we’re going to use some of your money to help other have a shot.”
Picture the classic image of rich titans of industry sitting around a wood-paneled private club, animal heads on the walls, butlers with white gloves — the exclusivity of the rich enjoying their riches together while plotting how to get richer. Government is the clubhouse for the rest of us. Public schools, roads, electricity, Medicaid and Medicare, veteran’s benefits — government helps the rest of us have the things we need in life, the otherwise only the super-rich could afford.
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Think about it. If there was no public water system in your town, the rich could import gallons of water from wherever, pay staff to wash their clothes in the river and boil water to drink, and so on. What would you do?
The rich want you to think that government is a bad idea for YOU because it’s really a bad idea for THEM. They would be more than happy to keep their tax money, send their kids to $30,000-a-year private schools, pay thousands out of pocket to get a cavity filled, fly a private plane here and there because highways would be ruined. But since there aren’t enough super-rich folks to rule elections (though they keep trying with corporate donations to candidates) they need our help, too. They need the rest of us to swallow their lie so they can keep getting richer and, as taxes decline by our own doing, the rest of us fall further and further into despair.
This isn’t to say government is perfect. We need a much more accountable, transparent and participatory politics in America. But thinking that if government doesn’t work perfectly then it doesn’t work at all is part of the lie. At a time when free market capitalism in its current form has failed us wildly, we’re not questioning the fundamentals of that system remotely as much as we should. But one minor or major misstep on the part of government, and we’re ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. We’re that brainwashed to believe the lie.
Last year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said the people of Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, who pay the highest taxes in the world, are also the happiest people in the world. Taxes don’t just benefit poor people. Taxes are what create shared prosperity and keep the middle class prosperous.
This Tax Day, as you’re dropping your return in the mail (or pressing that e-send button), instead of reinforcing the pro-rich, anti-tax lie and sighing grumpily as you do your duty, look around at everything your taxes are paying for, everything that helps you in your daily life — from the subsidized post office to the government-created Internet, to the roads and the water and the parks and the schools and the fire fighters and the stop signs and everything in between. Paying your taxes is your way to get America back on the right track for all of us, to reject the lie that helps the rich get richer and instead create a shared economy that benefits everyone.