— i.e., why should I care:
- About schools, if I don’t have children?
- About women’s health issues, if I’m a man?
- About roads, if I don’t drive a car?
- About minimum wage, if I have a salaried position?
- About health care, if I’m young and healthy?
Caring about others and providing a social system constitutes our “dues” as human beings.
A strong and vigorous society is one that binds all its people together in common cause, allowing freedom of expression to those who choose to explore their potential and giving support to those who need it.
A friend has said that, although he has no children, he supports good public schools and votes for school bond issues, because he doesn’t want to live in a society with “dumb” people. Good point. Another friend has stated that activism (which includes, at its most basic, being informed and voting) is the “dues” she pays for living in a modern society.
Regardless of political persuasion — Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative – there are certain common denominators that all Americans share, certain daily actions that unite us in activity: we drive on public streets, most of us obtain our water from public utilities and our power from a public power grid. (Granted, there are some “off-grid” citizens who have wells or solar power, but everyone – whether driver, passenger or pedestrian – uses public streets, buses or sidewalks.) We pay sales tax, which is used by our local governments to fund public projects like parks, schools and libraries and public buildings, infrastructure and protective services (like police, fire, and ambulance).
When we drive a public street, we expect it to be free of potholes.
When we need to talk to City Hall, we want to enter a building with electricity and bathrooms.
You may send your own children to private schools or home-school them, but probably want our public libraries to have lights, heat and books.
When we are in danger, we rely heavily on the comforting presence of police, fire fighters and EMTs.
Imagine, for a moment, if there was no publicly-supported infrastructure – what would your day look like? (For purposes of this imaginary experiment, let’s not pretend that there is no government at all, because that would be pure chaos and your day would be filled with protecting what you have from roving gangs of mercenaries.)
Even if you live in the city, your day will be similar to living in the country in the 18th or 19th Century – no electricity, no roads, no plumbing, fire protection only from a volunteer department, home-schooling your only option – but without libraries and art galleries for educational enhancement. It’s not impossible – in fact, you may even find parts of it soothing and attractive – but remember that it will not be a choice. What if you are unable to cut wood for your fire? What if your well runs dry? What happens when you get too old to live this harder style of life? You cannot spend free hours in the public library to get warm – there isn’t one. You cannot go to the city government for assistance – the city has no money. If you can’t work, whether from age or infirmity, you cannot live on Social Security – it doesn’t exist. If you are unable to ride a horse and don’t have a buggy, you can’t get a bus or an Uber – they are non-existent, as are the roads such public conveyances travel over today.
In 1927, in the case of Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinas v. Collector of Internal Revenue, a dissenting opinion written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. included the following phrase: “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society …”
Are they? Certain libertarian writers have posited that society can do very well without taxes, by financing government through “usage fees.” (Under this form of society, only those who use the roads would pay a toll, rather than government collecting taxes from everyone.) This form of raising funds is called a “noncoercive arrangement” by Edward W. Younkins in his treatise “Funding Government Without Taxation”
Says Younkins, “Tibor Machan’s fee-for-services-plus-overhead approach is one possible way to finance government in a free society—one in which the scope of government would be confined to protecting and preserving individuals’ Lockean natural rights.”
It is not within the scope of this post to debate forms of government or economies; however, this writer posits one observation: Whether you call it “usage fees” or “taxes” or any other terminology, the fact remains that money is required to fuel society. This writer does observe, also, that a system of “usage fees” is probably well within the means of well-to-do citizens and, possibly, middle class citizens, but will not necessarily serve the needs of the poor, the unemployable, children, the elderly, and other unfortunate segments of society.
We come again, then, to Justice Holmes’ observation that “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society …” and the initial question of this article – why should we care about society? Because we are bound together in this time and place and whether we, as a society, will prevail or fail will depend upon how we work together.
SO – WHY should we care? — Because we only succeed if we all succeed and our society will only prevail if we all prevail.
Author: Mary Gibson McCoy
President, Cultural Crossroads, Inc.