I sat on the back porch admiring my wife’s emerging azaleas and vegetable garden. We’re warming up after the harshest winter in North Carolina I can remember. We’re warming up despite the McCrory administration’s chilling effect on progress. I will give him credit for at least trying to heat things up recently. He and his energy industry pals are trying to turn North Carolina into a tourist destination rivaling Mexico. Beautiful beaches, warm climate, no government regulation—and, by the way, don’t drink the water.
My workingman son interrupted my musing. “Why do we even have taxes!”
“Why do we have schools?” I asked.
“C’mon. So companies know who to hire,” my son said.
“Ah, I see you prefer McCrory to Jefferson.”
“What?” he asked.
“McCrory and his ilk see the purpose of public education as a way to grease the wheels of industry with the blood of tech-savvy human sacrifices. In contrast, Jefferson views public education as a way to ensure an informed participatory electorate. Education is democracy’s only chance. Education is a far better insurance policy against tyranny than the Second Amendment.”
My son shifted back. “Anyway, I hate taxes.”
“Quit whining about taxes. People will think you’re rich.”
I paused to watch a squirrel scurry across the back fence. “Despite Paul Ryan’s propaganda, taxes will never kill the rich’s motivation to make money. Have you heard about the Wussification of America?”
My son nodded. “Bill O’Reilly. All our PC language stuff, no hard fouls, can’t hit the quarterback.”
I nodded. “It starts with the rich. They cower in gated communities, cover their assets in offshore tax shelters and whine about welfare queens. Our biggest problem is the Wussification of the Wealthy.”
My son laughed.
“‘The Greatest Generation’ tycoons, Getty, Hughes, Rockefeller, Mellon, Ford, DuPont raked in billions in the 1950’s when the top tax rate was 91 percent. In 1971 Great Britain cut its top tax rate to 75 percent. It didn’t kill Sir Paul McCartney’s creativity, or stop him from becoming one of the richest people on the planet. Today’s whining wealthy are the real wusses, whining about paying women fairly, raising the minimum wage, and, of course, paying taxes. I’ve been advised never to say this, but I like taxes.”
“Are you nuts?” my son asked.
“I don’t like paying taxes,” I clarified. “I like the idea of taxes in a democracy. Taxes in a monarchy may be stealing in the name of the crown, but taxes in a democracy are the original ‘crowdsourcing.’ Our modern Tea Party friends have perverted the founder’s Tea Party slogan from, ‘no taxation without representation,’ which is democracy, to ‘no taxation,’ which is the middle ages or Mexico. Taxes remind me there is at least a small possibility that wealth and opportunity will be redistributed from the top down in a democratic process rather than sucked up from bottom by the greed of the few. Redistribution isn’t a dirty word. It’s a part of what civilization does, sometimes better than others. Otherwise, Darwin wins again. Only the royals survive.”
The kid shook his head. “Another ‘tax and spend liberal.’”
“‘Tax and spend’ was coined by New Deal opponents during the Great Depression. Like the most brilliant propaganda, it fires up at least two strong feelings. First, ‘tax and spend’ fosters righteous indignation on the hard side of the heart: ‘What’s mine is mine, and those government morons want to raise my taxes and yours, my brother, to spend on frivolities and luxuries for the undeserving!’ It also fosters guilt on the doubt-ridden perpetually bleeding side of the heart. ‘Maybe taxing the rich and closing corporate loopholes really isn’t fair. Maybe if we stop taxing the rich, they’ll help the poor, and steward the planet’s finite resources because it’s the reasonable caring thing to do.’”
My son scoffed.
“I consider myself a ‘tax and save’ citizen. I’d like to save the commons, the roads, bridges, infrastructure, internet neutrality. I’d like to keep the ‘public’ in transportation, education and safety—not have prisons, police, fire departments and schools privatized.”
I took a deep breath. “Heck, I’ll pay taxes to save the middle class, a few trees, and maybe even the whole doggone planet!”
“OK.” My son raised the stop sign. “Tax and save.’ But it’s still painful to pay them.”