Monday, September 19, 2005

Taxpayer Pride

All this talk about the estate tax has made me think that maybe what this country needs is a little bit more taxpayer pride. I'm not joking (entirely), so hear me out. For as long as I can remember, we've been listening to politicians tell us how stupid the government is and how taxes are for suckers. I can't help but think that this has something to do with all of the negative sentiment against the estate tax harbored by people who have little to no chance of ever being affected by it. Americans have shown that they overwhelmingly favor some of the trappings of a welfare state, as long as they don't have to pay for it. Who knows where we would stand if we knew the true cost/benefit breakdown? Maybe some taxpayer pride can help us figure that out.

I remember visiting a friend in Washington, DC several years ago. We visited several of the Smithsonian Museums (or should I say, Smithsonians Museum?). As we were leaving the National Air and Space Museum, I made a quip about our tax dollars at work. In this case, I didn't mean it in the usual pejorative sense. I meant this is a great museum and I'm glad that our some of our tax dollars are used to fund it and all visitors can enjoy it free of charge. My friend, who has no conservative leanings whatsoever, didn't pick up the taxpayer pride that I was exuding and accused me of being a Republican or perhaps something even worse. If dyed-in-the-wool liberals can't appreciate taxpayer pride, I don't know who can. Still, there may be hope. P.J. O'Rourke, America's best (only?) conservative satirist had a good idea during a public radio pledge drive a few years back. He suggested that liberal listeners (and what other kind of public radio listeners are there?) look at their pledge as a tax on intelligence. They are obviously more intelligent than other people because they listen to public radio and they obviously love taxes because they are liberals, so its a win-win situation. Politicians love to appeal to our vanity, and while there are a lot of people who will probably never be receptive to a taxpayer pride message, there are plenty of voting demographic du jours (indoor soccer moms?) waiting to be told how to think about any number of issues.

Eventually, taxpayers are going to have to face the facts. Tax dollars aren't just funding the Cadillacs for welfare moms initiative, 24-hour abortion clinics, and other much-derided social programs. They actually fund some things that a majority of Americans support. I'm not expecting any taxpayer pride to show itself until some of these more acceptable and vital uses or tax dollars are put in jeopardy. Our current economic situation makes it very likely that we're going to be faced with a temporary refund adjustment sometime in the not-too-distant future. When that day comes, we'll see how much taxpayer pride we truly have.


MDS said...

I think everyone agrees that there's too much pork in the budget, and everyone further agrees that there are some essential services that the government must provide. The problem, then, is determining what falls into each category. It's easy for me sitting here commenting on a blog (or any individual) to identify what qualifies as pork and what doesn't, but it's much harder for society to do that. And therefore the final message just comes down to a certainty that taxpayer money is being wasted without anyone knowing for sure where that waste is going.

Kevin Drum makes some interesting comments here.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link to Kevin Drum's comments on discretionary spending. I find myself unable to reach any conclusions. I don't see how we can continue borrowing money to cover our expenses, but even the people who examine this kind of stuff for a living don't seem to agree on what the likely outcome is going to be. Personally, I can't see how being more fiscally disciplined would be a bad thing.