Coffee heat rising

Taxes, Government, the Tea Party, and America’s Way of Life


Listening to NPR’s All Things Considered during a quick grocery run this afternoon, I heard newly triumphant Tea Partier Rand Paul trumpeting on about what he thinks of as his “moderate” views on the future of American government: basically, get rid of everything that costs anyone anything. The Americans with Disabilities Act, he tells us, was “overreaching,” and businesses should be allowed to refuse service to anyone they please, including those needing special accommodations. Asked if, by that line of thinking, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was overreaching, he backed and filled like crazy, first trying to say that he agreed with legislation intended to eliminate “institutional” discrimination. Then, when pressed by the reporter who pointed out that the Civil Rights Act said businesses could not refuse service to anyone they please, he admitted he hadn’t ever read the darn thing.

The mixed results of the current round of voting, and the silly “We’re here to take back OUR government” motto that’s being used to fine demagogic effect (hey, it’s not your government, folks…it’s everyone’s government), presage re-election of doctrinaire kill-the-beasters. These people would like to see every tax-funded safety net taken away from every American, and if possible every tax eliminated, first starting with big corporate taxpayers, them moving to the extremely wealthy, and finally focussing on the middle class. As we know, the deadbeat working poor don’t pay taxes.

What, really, would this mean? A few days ago, Jim at Bargaineering ran a post in which he mentioned, in passing, USA Today‘s report that American tax rates are lower than they’ve been in 60 years. He also pointed out that those scary-sounding tax brackets do not even vaguely represent the typical American’s actual ratio of tax to income; after deductions and credits, he observes, “very few people pay anything close to their marginal tax rate.”

This engendered a lively round of screaming and wailing from Bargaineering’s readers. I left a half-baked yelp there, myself, which I’d like to refine a bit today.

You know, the American middle class exists not in spite of the government, but because of it. The affluent lifestyle that has been enjoyed by the majority of our citizens since World War II is an artifact of government protectionism and social programs that date back to the 1800s. The amenities we enjoy and that are envied by citizens of other countries, even in the developed world, were put in place by our taxes. As scholar Michael Lind remarked a few years ago, our middle class has “been invented and reinvented by the government.”

How, I wonder, do the Tea Partiers, the Kill-the-Beasters, and the chronic complainers think we get roads built? Bridges built? Airports constructed? Air traffic controllers trained and in place 24 hours a day?

Where do they think schools come from? Do they really believe it would be better for all of us to home-school our kids, or to rely on private entities with customer service like, oh, say Qwest‘s or Comcast‘s, to educate our children? Did none of them watch last week’s Frontline report on the quality of education delivered by for-profit “colleges” and “universities”?

Have they never used a public library? Have they never put their kids in a summer program run by their town or city’s public parks program?

Where does the water that flows out of the taps in their kitchens and bathrooms come from? Who works to make that water as safe as possible and keep it coming, clean and steady, day and night, year after year?

Is each and every one of them ready to pick up an automatic rifle and defend his home against an invading army? And who among them will be the general and who the privates in the unfunded militia that will protect our country against those who hate us?

And do they never go to professional football or baseball games, held in enormous arenas built at taxpayer expense for the benefit of private entrepreneurs? Do they not watch television, an amenity developed and delivered to us at taxpayer expense?

Did they all go to private colleges and universities, paying the vast tuition for places like Princeton, Yale, and Stanford out of pocket? Maybe they went to lesser schools, like Carleton College or Lewis and Clark—no problem sending the kids there with the savings from all those taxes not paid to support public universities and community colleges.

Maybe these folks, the Joe the Plumbers Sarah Palin pretends to speak for, can afford to put their kids in private or parochial schools. But most people can’t. What do they think will happen to America when 70 or 80 percent of the families in this country, absent public schools, cannot afford to educate their children?

One commenter at Bargaineering says about the claim that taxes are now historically low: “You forget to add into taxes things like social security, state and local fees and also real estate taxes.” Oh, the pain. I weep, I do.

Were it not for Social Security, after a lifetime of hard work and with a bouquet of graduate degrees, I would be sleeping on the street and blogging from the library. Oh, wait! No, I wouldn’t. There wouldn’t be any libraries without local taxes. I would not be blogging at all.

Nor would I be eating.

When I was laid off from my job—the micro-local consequence, we might add, of lax regulation of the financial industry and misguided theories about economy and government—I was forced into unwilling retirement because I am too old to get another job and do not know how to wait tables or stock shelves at the local WalMart (which wasn’t hiring anyway). I could not even get a job driving the tourist train at the zoo. Without Social Security, which now represents more than half my income, I would have lost my paid-off home because I could not have paid the utilities or the cost of basic maintenance. I would not have enough to to buy food or clothing.

If Social Security did not exist, my son would have to take me in and care for me through my old age, or else I would be on the street. And all those Tea Partiers would be doing the same for their parents.

Were it not for Medicare, I would not have any access to health care. Even with a better-than-average medical track record, my age, an evening in the ER with a stress attack pushing my blood pressure through the stratosphere, an incorrect diagnosis of a heart murmur, and a single hairline wrist fracture (signaling nonexistent “osteoporosis” to one insurance bureaucrat) render me ineligible for health insurance at any rational cost. If I could get an insurer to cover me, I could not afford it. For the health plan that cost $36 a month while I was working, COBRA charges $500. One early retiree I spoke with earlier this week said that he and his wife, both cancer survivors, are each paying $2,200 a month for health insurance!

That is more than my monthly gross income. It is $666 more than the 2005 average monthly income for Americans.

Medicare is pretty stiff, too: 8.33 times what I was paying on the job, where my employer footed most of the bill. The largest part of the individual’s cost of Medicare goes to private entities: Medicare Part D and Medigap are provided by the same insurance companies that rip you younger folks off; the only reason you can get full coverage in these programs—assuming you move fast and get yourself a policy the instant you become eligible—is that the federal government requires insurers to cover you without prejudice.

Taxes don’t just evaporate into the air. They buy essential services.

Those services keep our country safe, make commerce and communication possible, build and maintain the world’s best land and air transportation system, keep our food and water reasonably safe, give us a record high life expectancy (if you were born in 1900, when taxes were nil, you could expect to live just under 50 years), make it possible for us to educate our children for nothing or nearly nothing (have you priced private grade schools and high schools lately?), and relieve us from having to support our aged and infirm parents.

Among other things.

So please. Let’s get a little common sense!


Chicago Tea Party logo: shamelessly ripped from the Internet, without tax payment
Deutche Truppen am Arc de Triomphe, Deutches Bundesarchiv, Wikipedia Commons