Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy Tax Day

Makes it sound like a holiday, right?

I doubt that most people would think of celebrating today. Even though we all "observe" Tax day, it is not a Federal holiday or a day we take off from work. It is, however, a day when most of us at least think about the amount of money we send to our government. We don't normally notice the withheld income from our paychecks or contemplate what is actually being done with the taxes collected (unless the wrangling about budgets is hitting the news) or even really think about the fact that it is our money being used. That's the whole point of withholding. Out of sight, out of mind. We never see the money in the first place so we never consider the fact that we had it coming.

I'm not going to used this space to rant about what the federal government is doing with your tax dollars, or talk about my opinions on government reaction to the economy, or even talk about "progressive" taxation rates. Ok, maybe a little, but I'll try really hard not to. I want to talk about why tax people? Simple question, right? Not so much.

Taxes are, obviously, how the government pays for its activities. They exist because there are government activities which cannot be paid for in the same manner in which a business makes money, namely the sales of services or materials. We could pay for things like the mail service on a pay-per-use fashion (think stamps and postage) because that is a service provided to the people that the people use regularly and are happy to pay as they go. You don't expect the postal service to send your letter without paying for the stamp, just as you don't expect UPS to send your package without paying them for shipping. So some government services clearly don't need taxes to function. Some, however, clearly do need taxes in order to function. You wouldn't want to pay for police or military on a pay-per-use scale, would you? Of course not, since, by the time you need to use them, you don't want to need to worry about whether or not you can afford to call on them. Therefore, taxes are a necessary part of a functioning society. They are necessary to supply the basic functions of government. What those basic functions are is where we come to disagreements.

Addressing the question of basic function, in our society, must revolve around the confines of the Constitution, first and foremost. It outlined the duties of the government and should be what is followed, whether I believe it currently is being followed as a guideline I will keep to myself, for the moment. Article One, Section 8 of the Constitution starts with this sentence, "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States." It's that "general welfare" statement that gets us into trouble and arguments.

"They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It could reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and, as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please... Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It was intended to lace them up straitly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect."
-- Thomas Jefferson: Opinion on National Bank, 1791. ME 3:148

While I can find numerous other quotes regarding the use for taxes regarding providing for the general welfare, I think that sums up the original intent far better than most. With it, I begin my case, to be continued...

Oh, so I lied a little about not talking about my opinions on tax policy. Anyone heard about the Tax Tea Parties going on? Simon Jester talks a bit about them, and that's where I found these links. Apparently, there might be some conflicts of interest in demonstrating against government policy (taxation) and First Amendment rights in a few places. I say might, because it looks like changes in paperwork required is what's causing the problems, even if the paperwork was originally approved, like in Vermont and Philly. Then again, in Texas, calling the event "not in the public interest" looks like a political stooge trying to tell the people what should be thought. Though that might just be me.

Atlanta people who want to know more, go here.

Goodness, I seem to have tended more toward domestic policy with the blog than I ever intended. We'll see where I go from here.

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