By Martin Bosworth
As someone who’s had more than his share of tussles with the IRS over the years, you’d think I’d be one of those embittered folk who hangs on the every word of Grover Norquist and his army of flat-tax flat-Earthers. It’s easy to feel that way…we see millions of dollars’ worth of our money–money we’ve rightfully earned–go into things like failed faith-based abstinence programs, bridges to nowhere, and missiles that can’t fly straight, and we cry foul at the unfairness of it all.
But the heart of the matter is that taxation is necessary because, left to our own devices, we’re simply too narrow and self-interested to voluntarily fund the things that need funding. True, we may give to charities, but those are causes we care about. It’s easier to work up sentiment for curing breast cancer or helping starving kids eat than it is for paving roads, building schools, picking up the trash, etc. Those latter circumstances are things we take for granted. “Oh, there’ll always be someone to do that.”
Except that isn’t true. Every public service requires some fom of funding, and that means revenue has to come in to fund it. No matter how much we may think we’re entitled to something for nothing, that’s a fallacy we must all be cured of. While I don’t particularly enjoy paying my taxes, I am happy to do so with the knowledge that my money helps to build and maintain the necessary services and underlying structure our nation relies and thrives upon. Matt Stoller at MyDD has a great post that effectively sums up my thoughts on the issue.
Now, with that said, we absolutely must have two things in order to make the tax burden less of a burden and more of a duty:
- Simplify the tax code. This would cause many groups of people pain, as it would involve things like removing the mortgage interest deduction. But it would also involve streamlining or removing the alternative minimum tax, which is hitting more and more people and penalizing them for what was intended to be a loophole-closer against millionaire tax cheats. The tax code should be progressive, and those who earn more should pay more, but it should not be something that requires a doctorate to understand.
- Stronger enforcement of chasing down tax cheats. Now, by this I don’t mean the IRS’ justly-maligned and costly plan of outsourcing debt collection to private agencies. I’m talking more about being able to effectively investigate and enforce people who are trying to game the system. I cough up a few thousand extra dollars to Uncle Sam each year as an independent freelancer, and I take every deduction that I can, but no more and no less. If I can do it, so can these jokers. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if the IRS got more resources to audit corporate fraud and shady big-business dealings. There’s something inherently malignant about the idea of custodians paying more taxes than hedge fund managers.
The betterment of our country is everyone’s responsibility, and like it or not, taxes are one way to ensure it will not falter. If you think that we could effectively manage our nation solely through the charity and goodwill of individual citizens and private corporations, well, here’s an image from Grover’s own private bathtub to convince you otherwise: