For Tax Day, we’re resharing this post by Paul Shinn, which originally ran on OK Policy’s blog in 2009.
I’m not a fan of tax day. Who is? After several tortuous weeks of determining whether I have excess distributions from my 529 plan and deciding how much I owe to the two states I lived in last year, I’m in line at the post office to send all these forms and too many checks to too many different governments. I’ve had it. Why can’t we make society work without taxes? I’m willing to try, I think, as I doze off…
In the morning, it slowly dawns on me that I’ve awakened in a tax-free America. So far, it’s great; I didn’t need to set the alarm! No real point in taking the kids to school, if it’s even open today. I’m not wealthy, so I can’t afford one of the schools that is open five days a week, requires the teachers to have a degree, uses textbooks, and has standards about what my kids should learn during the year. When little Heather asks whether she can go to college, I just laugh. We can’t pay the tens of thousands of tuition for a private college. There’s no grant or loan programs and womens’ sports don’t make a profit, so there are no athletic scholarships awaiting her. Child care is risky too, since nobody determines if day care operators are qualified, safe, and not just in it to find victims for something.
Being a product of the same education “system,” I don’t have a job today. There’s such a glut of unskilled workers like me that we are lucky to get occasional day labor in dangerous jobs where we may or may not actually get paid for our work at the end of the day. There’s hope for more job options, however, since Mexico, India, and China are outsourcing more simple jobs to the U.S. due to our lack of labor and environmental protections.
Eventually I jump in the car (without seat belts or exhaust controls) and head for the grocery store. What an adventure! I pay several tolls to drive on streets that aren’t even paved! Most road owners don’t make enough to maintain the roads and none cooperate to create common tolls, be sure the roads line up, or provide traffic signals where they intersect. Forget about transit since it requires a tax subsidy even though it’s our most efficient means of transportation.
“I’m not wealthy, so I can’t afford one of the schools that is open five days a week, requires the teachers to have a degree, uses textbooks, and has standards about what my kids should learn during the year.”
I drive very carefully, avoiding any chance of an accident. Without taxes, there is no neutral party to enforce laws or find fault in a collision. Even if I’m not at fault, there is not much point in taking my case to court. Courts are financed through pay-per-verdict, so I’ll win only if I can outbid the jerk who hit me.
A lot of people don’t even try to go out. They stay home due to the threat of disease. Since nobody regulates what goes into food, there are always people with salmonella, e coli, and complications from eating melamine. Without taxes to fund research, immunizations, and public health programs, there’s a lot more disease here than in more developed countries. It spreads like wildfire since so few people get adequate health care. If you come down with malaria or tuberculosis, you’d better have enough money to go to one of the few doctors who got through one of the nation’s four medical schools. You wonder if it might be a good idea to have some authority that sets standards for doctors, hospitals, and drug safety, but how would you pay for it?
When I get home, the house is gone! Without funding for local planning efforts there are no zoning or building codes. My neighbor’s tarpaper shack caught fire on a windy day, so my house burned down, too. You can’t work out community fire protection on a fee basis, so several houses are gone. No worries, though. The rumor is someone is buying up neighboring properties to store toxic waste; that will kill property values and maybe us, too. Too bad we can’t find some way to separate residences from more dangerous land uses!
By the end of the day, I’m exhausted. I realize I’m in what a smart English guy a few hundred years ago called “war of all against all.” And I can’t stand it….
Happily, I wake up in line at the post office just in time to buy the stamps and send the taxes off. I’m still not smiling, but I’m okay with it.