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Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011 03:04 am

I (sort of) love taxes

For fiction lovers, the upcoming presidential campaign, which might match Newt Gingrich against Barack Obama, promises to deliver a cornucopia of entertaining untruths.

Gingrich published a book last year that accused Obama, a devout Christian with many wealthy friends, of conspiring to impose a “secular-socialist machine” upon America. Last month, Gingrich defended the large payments he received from Freddie Mac, what he might label a “socialist-capitalist” housing agency, against criticism by saying, “You start with people with a socialist bias that you shouldn’t earn money,” and when you profit, “You’re automatically [suspected] of having done something bad.” He also called the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan office that attempts to give both parties accurate numbers to base their decisions upon, a “reactionary socialist institution.”

Did I blink for 225 years and miss the transformation of the United States from the world’s wealthiest capitalist country into a socialist country desperate to preserve its status quo? When did my 310 million neighbors transform their communities into egalitarian communes?

Pure socialism, as I understand it, is a system of collective or governmental ownership in which there is no private property, the governing body sets all industrial policy and consumption is rationed to ensure fairness and sustainability. Gingrich might mean that we have some sort of hybrid Marxist socialist system but, given how prosperous our capitalists are, it just doesn’t seem accurate to throw around the word “socialism” as wildly as he does.

Words must have shared meaning if we are to communicate with each other. What Gingrich and his supporters really seem to fear is not socialism but taxation, specifically the redistribution of wealth that is inevitably a part of any taxation system. Citizens pay taxes, and we all benefit in direct and indirect ways from the resulting spending, especially when it expands the public commons (e.g., transportation, parks, public schools, and so on).

Here I struggle against the dawning awareness that a core belief might now place me within a minority in the United States. I respect the Internal Revenue Service, and I love the fact that my country asks me to pay taxes. I might quibble about the rate – too high? too low? – or the spending priorities – why there instead of over here? – but in general, I’m happy that I get to pay taxes.

Taxation authority and the pool of revenue it creates, after all, are merely the basis for civilization as we know it. Most of us live five decades longer than most humans used to live because of taxes, and our lives no longer are nasty and brutish, or bereft of friends and family.

If we believe in the common good, then we should waste less time on the question of whether redistribution of wealth will happen. It will. We should instead argue more fiercely and openly about our spending priorities.

If we truly believe, as some among us seem to, that taxation is evil and wealth redistribution is always bad, then we must immediately abolish our entire military, Social Security, Medicare, all safety-net programs such as food aid and unemployment insurance, all public schools, all disability benefits, all business subsidies, all infrastructure funding, all public libraries and all funding for clean water and sewage treatment.

The result? Violence and mass death on a scale not seen since Europe’s Dark Ages. That vision for our future is not a hopeful one.

Civilization, according to Newt Gingrich, is bad, and American citizens possibly could be nave or foolish enough to elect a person with this belief system to the presidency.

Nick Capo, associate dean and associate professor of English at Illinois College, writes as a public scholar and private citizen.
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