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Right on Greta!
I don't know who said it, but "Taxes are the price we pay for Civilization." is one of my favorite quotes.

Be prepared however, for the libertarians who populate the Atheosphere, to tut tut in you direction.

Blake Stacey

You know what pisses me off worse than taxes? The self-service weighing-and-stamping machine in the post office. Its programming is downright stupid: instead of accumulating the cost of all the purchases and having you pay at the end, you have to pay after each item. This has amusing consequences when your cost-per-item is just under the $1 minimum charge.

And with the long latency each time the machine has to commune with the spirits of the credit-card network (it doesn't take cash), the time per person is significantly prolonged, so the queue moves slowwwwly, and the closer you get to the front, the more you're thinking that the person at the machine is an incompetent moron, and when you get there yourself you discover that you're just as bad. . .

Somehow, though, life goes on.

Actually, assuming I didn't botch the figures somehow, the People's Republic of Massachusetts owes me $44 dollars this year. I feel like I just won a beauty contest in Monopoly-world!

John dowd

You contrast tax supported with private for profit run services, but there is a third way. I am Hon Sec of a fundraising branch of the RNLI. In Britain we fund our lifeboats charitably and have a service manned by volunteer crews. We are fanatical about the quality of our service and have our boats built and equipped to the highest standards and our crews trained and supported in the best ways we can. I have observed both tax funded and privately (for profit) funded organisations minimising standards in an attempt to reduce costs and get "value for money" I believe voluntary charitable organisations such as the RNLI can focus upon and deliver the highest quality of service. That being said however I agree with the thrust of your argument that tax in a modern democratic country is largely a good thing providing services to the whole of the community.


Right on! I agree completely. I'm mostly self-employed so I have to write a check every year. And when it's a big ass check, it's because I had a good year. I can't complain about that.

I think I hate whiners more than anything else.


AMEN. I get so tired of people complaining about high taxes, then turning around and complaining about government programs that got cut. Choose a friggin' side. Either you keep your money or you get subsidized programs, but you do not get both. Not how the system works.


I'm in total agreement with you here, Greta, and I live in Taxatopia Canada. Yeah, we pay high taxes here, but we get our money's worth.

Granted, I did just get a $1000 refund calculated on my return, so I may be a little biased...


Interesting thing, In Mass, you can elect, for that year, to pay a slightly higher income tax if you so choose. It's not a lot (something like 5.3... vs 5.8...) but I figure it makes a difference, and since I get a refund every year anyway (yay being almost-broke!) I always choose it. Giving a little extra of money I never saw in the first place doesn't hurt me :)

Jim H

blotzphoto, the quote is from Oliver Wendell Holmes.

I once had an argument with a colleague over whether it was fair for those of us with no children to pay school taxes. I think I won when I asked if he thought it was worth it to pay for a fire department, even though his house wasn't currently on fire. (Greta, I hope your stove is feeling better now.)

Greta Christina

I once had an argument with a colleague over whether it was fair for those of us with no children to pay school taxes. I think I won when I asked if he thought it was worth it to pay for a fire department, even though his house wasn't currently on fire.

That's a really good analogy, Jim H. It benefits everybody in society to have children educated... just like it benefits everybody to not have houses on fire.


Oh, yay! Speaking as an outsider, I always found the apparently common US attitude to taxation astounding. Stuff like seeing people complain about the state of schools, and then vote against paying for them. I mean, What??

Of course, other things being equal, we'd all prefer to pay less tax than more... but other things are damn-well NOT equal, since taxes are needed for important things.

So it comes down to what kind of society you want to live in.


efrique, wanna know what the most common argument against raising taxes to pay for schools is? No, I won't tell you, I'll let you guess (hint: it's the most depressing option imaginable. Yes, that one, the one you can't believe anyone would be so stupid as to make, the one that can't possibly be true, the one that makes you fully accept the idea of total depravity).

Greta, I just commented on your brilliance on Daylight Atheism, and I have to do so again. Brava! Take a bow!

Bruce Gorton

Speaking as someone who works in economic reporting...

Excellent post.

Jon Berger

There are probably some extreme anarcho-libertarians who are against taxes on principle, but I'd venture to guess that the majority of the teabag crowd, if you were to pin them down, think that taxes are just dandy as a general proposition. They just think that certain uses of tax revenue are bad, and they think that they could pay a whole lot less taxes if the government wouldn't fund those things. And the thing is, I agree with that, and you probably do too.

Now, you and I may have different lists of undesirable uses for tax dollars from the teabaggers. They'd probably place teachers who teach that homosexuality isn't a disgusting perversion and welfare checks for people of different races than them pretty high on their lists; you and I might put the war in Iraq and subsidies for agribusiness high on ours. But I think, with the exception of the aforementioned lunatic fringe, that most of them would probably agree with the general proposition that taxes are necessary for society to function properly.

The usual example of something we can all agree should be taxpayer-funded is roads. Although not even that is totally non-controversial; you'll certainly find people who will make a not unreasonable argument that they're effectively a subsidy to the car and oil industries; viz. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and the very real destruction of the Los Angeles train system to make way for the freeways that it's based on. And I can tell you that up here in Sonoma County, we have publicly-funded roads that don't happen to go anywhere except from arterial routes into humongous winery estates; I admit to experiencing mild pangs of teabaggerism when I see county road crews, paid for by what I inevitably mentally characterize as "my tax dollars" on such occasions, working on what is essentially the driveway of some winery owned by some golfing buddy of some county supervisors. But still, most of us and most of the teabaggers would probably agree that taxes are fine when they're spent on a lot of the stuff you listed: roads, fire departments, health inspectors. We just differ on some of the details.

The right is protesting taxes this week, but it hasn't always been a right-wing thing. Look up a guy named John Paul Malinowski for an example of 60's-era Vietnam War tax protesting.


Some people want government and taxes, and the services they provide, replaced with private enterprise and volunteerism. My problem with that is: Where's the accountability?

I usually couch my response in capitalist terms: a company is beholden to its shareholders and, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, to its customers.

Democracy means that we're all shareholders in this common enterprise we're in. I've been thinking that "ZOMG the government is nationalizing the banks!" can easily be spun as "Now we're all shareholders of CitiGroup".


I agree with you about the need for taxes to pay for the necessary services and all that. I'm not sure that the tax system as it works now is fair, but that's another argument and not what you are talking about here.

I'm always amazed when someone complains about their tax dollars going to pay for a bridge in another state. What about the bridges in YOUR state that MY tax dollars paid for? It doesn't make any sense.

Greta Christina

Jon, with all due respect, I must beg to differ. For one thing, there are people who seriously argue -- wrongly, IMO, but seriously -- that everything should be privatized and paid for voluntarily. Roads, fire departments, everything. (One of the slogans of the teabagging crowd is "Taxation with representation isn't so great, either!")

But they are a pretty small fringe. More importantly: The Republican party has been making political hash for years out of a reflexive, generic "cut taxes, reduce government" agenda -- without making a good argument, or indeed any argument at all, for why this particular program isn't necessary, or why this particular program would be better handled privately than publicly. And they do it without making any proposals for how, specifically, the service in question will be handled if not by the government. (And, in fact, they've been doing it while not, in fact, reducing government -- government spending skyrocketed during the Bush Jr. administration.)

For years now, the Republican Party has been the party of the bear patrol: cut taxes, then wonder why the country is falling apart. (And then, like Mayor Quimby in the bear patrol episode, blame it on illegal immigrants.)

I think we absolutely should be having debates about whether (X) should be paid for by taxes or handled privately. ("I don't personally drive on that road" isn't, IMO, a good argument; "Nobody drives on that road except the Wineowner family and their friends" is an excellent one.) But I think the debate should be about specific programs (and, as Jay pointed out, specific systems of taxation) -- not a reflexive, generic, "Taxes are bad, mmkay." Which is exactly what we've been getting for years... and is exactly what reflexive griping about the mere fact of having to pay taxes plays into.

the chaplain

Excellent post. On the one hand, I wouldn't mind being in a lower tax bracket and paying less into the system. On the other hand, I use a lot of the services that my tax dollars pay for, so, I don't mind paying my fair share.


To answer efrique's question, and expand on Greta's remarks - here in the U.S., the Republican party in the past few decades has advocated a strong anti-tax position that's still fairly influential in American political thought. (Ronald Reagan, whom the modern GOP has deified, was especially responsible for this.) As Greta said, they weren't particularly concerned with what the taxes were being spent on; they just wanted them cut, period, no matter the consequences.

I think a lot of this has to do with the Republican party's two major ideological backers: first, the wealthy and business interests, who are generally able to take care of themselves regardless and therefore see no need for a social safety net (and who, of course, would love to see their own tax burdens reduced). Second is the religious right, who oppose the existence of a social safety net because its absence tends to drive people toward the major private providers of social services: namely, the churches. When people are hungry, broke or destitute, it's easy to force them to submit to proselytization in exchange for food or child care, and most religious right churches would jump at that chance.

Jen R

Taxes also pay for schools that teach children about contraception and evolution, which is another reason for the religious right to oppose them.


But we're not getting what we're paying for. I wouldn't mind in the least paying my tax (and I'm self-employed, so I know just how much pain is involved) if I thought that my taxes weren't being squandered. Or worse, that they weren't being spent attacking a country who never harmed us in any way.

The food supply is becoming less and less safe every year, doctors and prescription drugs are killing us in record numbers, roads and bridges are disintegrating, our wounded soldiers are coming back to find no facilities to care for them, and we're piling a truly staggering debt onto our grandchildren.

Wow, that sounds like I'm a real pessimist, and I'm not. I think there's a lot of good in this country, and much of it is paid for by our taxes. But those who are supposed to be accountable keep getting re-elected, government agencies are run by political hacks, and we're paying for it.


Ditto. What you said, Greta.

Greta Christina

You make some valid points, Chakolate. The problem, though, is that none of of those things are going to get better with lower taxes -- and in fact, they've been made worse by them. The FDA is underfunded, the highway department is underfunded, the Veteran's Administration is underfunded... do I need to go on?

It seems like you're making the Bear Patrol argument, but in reverse -- cut taxes, then complain that services don't exist and everything's falling apart.

There are serious problems with the way our government is run. And we have the right, and indeed the responsibility, to complain about those problems and demand that they get fixed. But the pattern in American politics has been to say, "(X) isn't working, why are we spending money on it?", and then cut funding for it... and then act surprised when it works even worse than before. It doesn't make sense. Some problems do get fixed by throwing money at them.

(The only issue you bring up that might theoretically be addressed by lowering taxes is the debt. The problem, though, is that we have a crappy economy, and right now government spending is probably the only thing that will pull it out. And pulling the economy out of the toilet is an essential first step to eliminating the debt.)


If you don't like taxes, go live in a hut with no running water, no fire department, no police, etc.

I have a mad hate on for those who whine about taxes, go somewhere where there are less taxes and *then* give grief to volunteer fire companies when their house burns down. No hydrants, no water system, no always on-call firemen. You made your choice, live with it you (*#&% hypocrites.

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