Friday, September 24, 2010

Elections + African photos

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No new taxes! Really?

Here it is almost the election and one of the hot topics these days is taxes.

How did taxation get to be such a dirty word in American politics? Now in the election season it is held up as a banner that the right rallies around “No new taxes” “ tax cuts…” and the Democrats approach the topic with caution.

One evening in Tanzania we sat with two couples – one from Germany, the other from Sweden. They agreed that they didn’t understand the American fear of taxes – the German spoke saying “ Sure we have high taxes – but we have an excellently maintained infrastructure, you never see homeless people on the streets, quality medical care is guaranteed for all, and my children don’t have to go into debt for years to pay for their higher education. I think our system is great.” The Swedish people agreed that they had a similar system and were also very satisfied.

I suppose it comes back to the American concept of individual responsibility – The underlying theme seems to be “What I work for I should get to keep. “ “Why should I pay for someone who is lazy or not as smart or lucky as me…?" We believe in the pioneer idea of rugged individualism.

However, individualism seemed to work better in a wilderness or at least a rural setting – as people live in more dense groupings the pioneer concept of individualism becomes increasingly difficult – We have common needs that can not be denied – good roads and schools are difficult for individuals to design and maintain. It makes sense to pool money from all individuals to pay for services that we all need or may need.

In Arusha Tanzania tax money is not spent on sidewalks in front of the stores - If the shop owner wants a side walk they can add it - it not, people have to walk in the street. The result is a system of sidewalks with 3 foot drop offs as you pass from one shop to another... or people walk in traffic in front of many shops. Some side walks are a foot wide, others 8 feet wide. Its the ultimate in individual responsibility and free choice.

The focus on lower taxes has left us in the situation with not enough money to maintain roads and streets properly, support of public schools and universities has been reduced to bare bones, many state parks are now shut, and police, fire, and city services have been seriously reduced. What is so bad about funding those common services that benefit us all? I guess I'm a rare bird but I would support the idea of all of us chipping in a little more to have these services running properly again.

Bottom line is – if we done like how our tax money is being spent we can elect someone that will spend it in ways that benefits our mutual way of life – Electing people who only promise additional tax cuts will result in an even greater reduction in our shared community resources.