NORTH LITTLE ROCK — As we get older and look at our meager earnings/savings compared to the time investments in our careers, government and taxes provide easy targets to those looking to blame someone for their fate (myself included).
“If only they’d let me get paid an honest day’s wages for all of the work I’m doing!” the familiar cry rings. “How can they keep taking things from me when I don’t have anything to give? If the government would just get out of my business, everything would be better.”
Yet when complaints against government annually pop up, I often wonder what folks would do without the government providing roads for commerce, public safety personnel and a judicial process rather than mob rule. In some ways it reminds me of the Albert King tune with the verse, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
I grew up in a middle-class family and was taught if I wanted something, I had to work for it. No one owed me anything; privilege favored the rich. The Arkansas State Police and the U.S. Federal Court of Hearings and Appeals, i.e. the government, clothed and fed our family, even if it was Corn Flakes for breakfast, bologna and cheese sandwiches for lunch, nearly every day for most of my mid-childhood and teenage years.
Living tight then taught me to live tight most of my life. I worked multiple jobs going while obtaining my undergraduate and first graduate degree without owing anyone a dime. I only took out school loans for the doctorate; now they’re more than my house. I went to college to get off the government teat; now I work for a state university.
Our taxes provide my salary, which granted isn’t the largest considering I work at one of the smaller universities in a small Southern state. Business-minded friends often chided me while I worked on my degrees: “Go into business. You don’t want to teach — you’ll starve!” But a lack of quality education ensures an under-educated workforce, which leads to a depressed job market.
So when it comes to government and taxes, I’m in a Catch-22 of sorts, i.e. if I rail against them, I more or less rail against my existence. Therefore, I had to reassess my position on taxes. After careful deliberation these many years, I’m starting to think of any and all taxes as incentives to quit. Framing it this way provides black and white alternatives for everyone. For example:
— The government taxes cigarettes and alcohol as incentives to quit taking harmful substances in our bodies. It wasn’t enough to warn us against the health dangers to do any good. If we don’t want to pay $8 a pack, quit smoking!
— The government taxes fossil fuels because the autos we drive spew out crap into the air and leak toxic substances on the ground that run off into our groundwater, thereby degrading the environment. In order to drive, we need roads to travel and upkeep after having 80,000 lb. rigs moving over it. Taxing fuel provides an incentive to carpool, buy an economical car, keep the foot out of the accelerator, keep the vehicle maintained, etc. If we don’t want to pay $3 a gallon for gas and better roads, quit driving!
— Sooner or later, the government will most likely tax industry for emissions that contribute to global climate change. Now this really pisses off friends of mine on both sides of the political spectrum. But I’m trying to look at it from a practical standpoint. Taxing carbon emissions provides real value to the degradation caused by our dependence on a lifestyle that contributes to mountaintop removal, habitat destruction and elimination of some ecosystems. In short, if we don’t want to see the oil spills, hear about the species extinction, etc., quit contributing to that lifestyle.
“That’s too radical, Sitton!”
Is it? The bicycle provides the most aerodynamic and fuel-efficient mode of transportation known to man, but how many of us use it regularly? A downtown area with neighborhood grocery stores and nearby businesses allows residents to walk more, which leads to healthier lifestyles. But how many of us want to give up our McMansions in suburbia or our new shiny autos? How many of us want to live next door to someone when we can have wide open spaces between us (regardless of the drive into town)? And shouldn’t we be allowed to spend whatever we want, whenever we want on whatever we want and damn the environmental consequences required to get it to us?
I’m not a fan of big government, but it seems to be the only rein on businesses and corporations determined to make the biggest buck regardless of what happens to the air we breathe, the water we drink or the food we eat. The only way to pay the salaries of those working the jobs that keep us safe and secure comes through taxes. The only way to pay the educators that provide a workforce that attracts better-paying jobs comes through taxes. If the only way to keep the air clean, the water pure and the food edible depends on taxes, should we be surprised?
Of course, easy alternatives stare us in the face. Give up the schools, libraries, paved roads, public safety, judicial system and who needs taxes? Give up the auto for bikes, horses or walking and who needs gasoline? Quit leaving the lights on, insulate the house, buy better windows or — God forbid — swear off all electronic media and modern conveniences … who would need (much) electricity?
In short, the government keeps giving us incentives to quit. Isn’t it rather pathetic that we’re as addicted as the alcoholic who wants just one more drink, or the smoker who’ll skip eating for one more cancer stick?