Monday, April 18, 2011

Tax Day

This year I had to pay taxes. By disclosing that, I am not saying that I usually don't have to pay, but this year I owed money at the end of the year so that instead of receiving a second-quarter bonus, I had to give up some 2011 money to pay for 2010. It wasn't horrible, only inconvenient.

Some people would say that I'm doing it wrong by either not having enough withdrawn from my paychecks (which may be true) or by paying taxes at all (instead of finding loopholes in the tax code). I can't really say that I agree. While I do believe that there is a lot of unfairness in the tax code, I do feel a degree of responsibility to paying my share of the tax burden. So I try not to complain about the amount taken out of my paycheck or having to pay a chunk at the end of the year.

What I do have a problem with, however, is how my tax money is spent. I guess that is what all of the uproar is about in Washington (D.C.) lately with spending bill talks and budget crises and such. A useful tool provided by the white house for seeing an overview of where your tax money goes can be found here. At the top of the list (for income tax, anyway) is military spending. That is just above health care. So essentially the largest chunk of my income tax dollars are going to fight wars in other countries. Those tax dollars are killing innocent people and making the oil men richer and re-enforcing an ever more imperialistic US government. I'm not a fan.

Another thing I am not really understanding is that I pay a medicare tax and I pay healthcare in my income tax. Why are these separate? I don't have a problem paying to help the overall health costs of the nation, but this seems like a political thing, keeping them separate. (It's not lost on me that together, my combined "healthcare tax" is a good bit higher than the military tax, but I prefer a tax that helps people more than one that kills people.) I wonder how many schools could see considerable improvement for each scud missile fired into "non-war" no-fly zones.

A topic that isn't all that unrelated to this is one of objectivism. I have not been shy about two seemingly incongruent points of view I hold onto. I tend to be both liberal in my views while also holding a strong appreciation of many of the precepts put forth by objectivism (as represented most recognizably by Ayn Rand in her writings such as Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead). What it comes down to for me is that while objectivism really works for my logical and autonomous side (and models some of the ideals I try to live for), I don't believe it could ever work nor is it good for real human society. I believe that compassion is a worthwhile virtue and that while the system could use an overhaul in practice, welfare is not something that should be left by the wayside. The term "entitlements", in negative reference to welfare, originates from a point of view that celebrates elitism and pays no regard for the common man, who is really all of us. I appreciate the opportunities I have and have had, and I appreciate living in a system that allows me to excel and live comfortably if I choose to work for it, but I also believe that every working person deserves a living wage, and in our free market system, many of the services that we enjoy do not pay this living wage. And that's where welfare and "entitlements" come in.

So how can objectivism play into a liberal society? By way of constraints that keep the system going. I don't have a problem with wall street bankers making billion dollar bonuses, but I do think they need to be taxed very heavily to even things out. With their wins, someone else has lost (and in most cases, it was many someone elses). When banks (or others) lose, they should be allowed to lose (like the rest of us). Afterall, the individuals involved do have the same safety net of welfare that we all have. My point is that there is value in some regulation and that people have an obligation to pay into keeping the system going. (It is obvious from the last years' bailouts and the playing to the financial industry that free markets don't really exist anyway. I think it's time to call a spade a spade.) I think the reason that most conservative republicans vote and argue the way they do (to protect the rich and the rich lifestyle) is because they really do think that eventually they will achieve that wealth, and so they don't want to ruin it for themselves. Delusional.

All of this is to say that I do think that many of the intentions of the US government are where they should be. How they are exercised are not. We are spread way too thin in trying to be everything to everyone in the world. I am not advocating an isolationist policy, but that's not even an argument in this day of global markets and open communication. What I am advocating is that we bring our troops home, shrink the military and the military spending in a huge way. We should spend the money we have in improving our internal systems and government efficiencies. We should do a better job of implementing our welfare systems so that we help more of our people that really need it. If once we have trimmed down and improved the government systems we find that we need more taxpayer money to fund the government, then we concentrate first on making sure everyone is paying their share in the grand scheme of things.

This all sounds good (to me) but getting there would be a monumental task. We currently have a democratic president who I sometimes think is actually a conservative republican in disguise. (The biggest winners in the healthcare law that was passed, for instance, appear to be the existing healthcare companies, who are already cleaning us out - remember the health care expenditures mentioned above?) We have republicans who are fighting welfare entitlements but take home major payouts in their own version of entitlements. In all of the discussions to make a budget, there has been no serious consideration of shrinking the military and in fact we have a new front to protect in Libya. The primary goal of the parties is to fight each other, not improve the lives of the people. And we are paying for that bickering. If we wanted things to stay the same, we could do away with most of our elected officials, but as it is, we want improvements. None of the party lines make sense, either. Conservatives want to take away a woman's right to an abortion, but they also want small government (supposedly) that leaves people alone to do what they want (except have abortions). Democrats want extensive social services but are also advocating tax cuts (I think this could actually work if they did away with much of the military - but no mention of that). It's all about posturing and getting someone into office so that they can do it all over again for another 4 years.

In this day I think that taxes and a big government are necessary. In a perfect world, this wouldn't be so, but we will never have a perfect world. The tax money needs to stay here and the government needs to do the job that our tax dollars are paying for.

No comments: