Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | April 16, 2003

Taxes: The price we pay for civilization

They said I live in a wonderful country and should pay my taxes with a smile. I tried that but they insisted on cash!” ~ Mel Narvey

Income tax day is just behind us, and many United States citizens are freshly aware of the pain of paying federal and state income taxes.

For me, tax season is even more complicated than before. Having left the corporate employment world, I’m learning to navigate the intricacies of self-employment taxes.

I’ll agree that our tax codes are Byzantine in design and complex beyond belief; I’ll agree that tax monies aren’t always spent wisely; and I’ll agree that there are myriad ways to improve how, how much and whom we tax.

But I can’t agree with Stuart Allen’s assertion in a recent letter to the editor that, “Buying bombs is the fundamental reason for taxation. All other uses of public money are, by and large, superfluous and unnecessary.”

One look at the turmoil in Iraq brought on by the complete lack of any form of government – the looting of hospitals, museums and government buildings (some conservative pundits, if not applauded, at least condoned the latter) – makes me tickled pink to have a stable, democratic government to which I can pay taxes.

I’ve always thought that taxes are a price we pay to live in our civilized society. It makes sense for the government to oversee and fund police and fire protection, criminal justice, transportation systems, public safety, immigration, defense and education.

But those things cost money.

As unpopular as it might be this close to April 15, I’m reminded of Lord Thomas Robert Dewar’s words, “Nothing hurts more than having to pay an income tax, unless it is not having to pay an income tax.” Having to pay income taxes means you’re not destitute – and isn’t that, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing?

If you want to quibble with the amount, method or spending of taxes, that’s fine. But I disagree wholeheartedly with the notion that taxes for anything but bombs are superfluous.

That is, unless anarchy is your cup of tea.

Tax filing season, especially juxtaposed as it was this year with the lawlessness in Iraq, renews my gratitude for a country where my taxes are remitted to a government bound by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – not a dictator bound only by his ego; a government bound by the rule of law – not the rule of fear and torture; a government bound by a democratic system of elections – not sham elections with just one candidate.

So, painful as it is to work my way through the complicated state and federal income tax forms, and as many ways as I would like to use the money that my husband and I sent to Uncle Sam and the state, I see – and appreciate – the bigger picture.

I see value in well-maintained roads, bridges and tunnels. I see danger in planes colliding in midair. I believe all children – for their own good and mine – need access to public education. I demand the ability to move about my community without fear of criminals acting with impunity. I want a strong national defense to protect my nation. I require a criminal justice system that acts fairly and metes out appropriate punishment to offenders.

We can’t have those things without paying taxes. And so I file the forms and pay my taxes, and as I do, I consider it a privilege – and the price – to live in a nation with a government I’m proud to claim as mine.

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