The high cost of low taxes

No one likes paying taxes, and I’m no exception. I’m far from being in the top one percent of earners, but I’ve also had to pay federal, state, and local taxes all my life.

Anyway, I’d prefer to keep my money and spend it on other things. Some costs, however, are best to be borne by the public rather than by individuals. The move to lower taxes is not about reducing what we pay for services. Rather, it is about a shift from public payments to privatization. When the government does not fund basic services, the services are then provided by businesses for profit. This means the burden of payment for necessary services shift to the less wealthy while control and profits shift to the wealthy.

For example, roads benefit all of us. The alternative to having the government spend money on roads is to let private firms build the roads and charge whatever costs the public can bear. I do not happen to think this is the best way to build a modern, efficient, and functioning society. Our country needs a mobile workforce. Denying citizens this mobility is to deny what I view as a basic human freedom: the ability to move and seek better opportunities and living conditions. While I agree that people who build roads should be paid for the effort, I do not believe the construction and maintenance of roads should be driven purely by considerations for profit. When we don’t pay for roads through taxes, we pay for them through tolls.

Nor do I think education should be operated for this reason. As school funding is cut, schools must turn to corporations for sponsorship. School lunches are provided by the big food industry, and the logos of major industrial players abound in the school lunchroom.  When asked to provide more healthful alternatives, the industry lobbies our government to circumvent regulations by declaring that the tomato sauce on a pizza is a vegetable. Further, education materials, from textbooks to video lessons, are prepared by corporations and include advertising and other forms of blatant indoctrination.

And when universities lose government funding, they also seek corporate sponsorship for their research, faculty positions, and buildings. Rather than providing a forum for intellectual discovery and exchange, universities become the mechanism for generating increased profits. This means scientific research is aimed only at supporting industry and basic research is stifled. Fields that are not seen as contributing to “the economy” are constantly under attack. The arts and humanities must constantly fight to survive and themselves must rely on corporate donors to stay afloat.

A vibrant and thriving society, however, needs free intellectual and artistic expression. Relying on corporate donors suppresses dissent or even basic disagreement. This impedes intellectual progress and, more importantly, moral progress.  Of course, the higher tuition fees that result also limit educational opportunity for most of us. Higher tuition and reduced financial aid mean more students graduate heavily in debt.

It is appropriate that some health care be provided for profit and that only those willing and able to pay for it should receive it, and this is the situation even in countries that have “socialized medicine.” A health care system that is entirely privatized however creates two contradictory and unworkable conditions: 1. Health care providers make the most profit by providing unnecessary tests and treatments. 2. Insurance companies make the most profit by denying access to as much care, necessary or not, as possible. Basic health care does the most to improve life quality for a society, but it is the least profitable care to provide. Public funding for access to basic healthcare ensures that everyone has a better chance to live and be productive.

Prisons are necessary in any civil society, but prisons are increasingly built and operated by for-profit companies. Some people need to be removed from society, but it is best that no one profit by increasing the number of people incarcerated. Incarcerating people should be something we do only when no other alternative is available, and it should create a burden for all, not an opportunity for profit.

When taxes are lowered, and public spending is reduced, these basic services do not become free. On the contrary, we pay more for them (unless you are a person who makes enormous profits from them). For most of us, lowering taxes too much limits our freedom and increases our financial burden for obtaining basic services. Certainly, wasteful government spending should be eliminated and taxes should be reduced when appropriate, but public funding for basic services is essential. The United States is currently experiencing a massive move toward privatization, which is hurting our mobility, education, and health. It is also resulting in a growing prison population that is inconsistent with a just society.

About ethicsbeyondcompliance

I hold a PhD in medical humanities with an major emphasis in ethics. I began teaching college-level ethics in 2000.
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