Sunday, December 16, 2007

We're Not Getting What We Pay For

The basics of money are something that most people learn in childhood. If you want to buy something, you have the money to pay for it. In order to get that money, you either have to earn it or get the credit for it. This is apparently something that President Bush has not learned, as evidenced by his latest round of illogical vetoes and spending requests.

President Bush has vetoed children’s health insurance in the name of principle. He has prevented the roll back of massive tax cuts for the wealthy, despite the mounting costs of two wars. All in the name of principle. President Bush resisted an $11 billion increase in domestic spending, yet demanded $200 billion in additional war funding. This could add $239 billion to the deficit just this year. Without adding one additional cent of revenue.

Throughout human history, governments have taxed their people in order to generate revenue. American history is no different. In WWI, the top income tax rate was raised to 77% (for incomes of $1 million or greater). Seventy-seven percent!!! During the great depression, income taxes were raised to 94%. And in World War Two, the government even introduced payroll withholding! And all of this is on the highest tax bracket. Today, the highest tax rate is 35% (and even that is on a progressive scale, so the effective tax rate is lower).

Something has to give. The government can’t continue to spend at an out-of-control rate, while denying the simple fact that it is not generating the necessary income. At a time of war, it would be prudent to fund the war with actual dollars instead of dollars borrowed from future generations.

Taxes are not the enemy. Republicans would like you to believe that a government can exist solely on spite, war and oil. They’ll also have you believe that the Democrats want to tax you into oblivion. And that your hard-earned money will probably be used to fund underwater basket weaving courses for drug addicts and people on welfare. These so-called proponents of “small government” continue to grow the government at staggering rates. The government (and the national debt) grew ten-fold while Reagan was in office. And these are the people who continue to operate our government in a deficit situation even though it flies the face of all logic. As the population grows, the government should grow to compensate. It's the direction of that growth that causes problems (Department of Homeland Security, anyone??).

The fact of the matter is that a government is a social contract among a group of people. The government agrees to protect and provide to the people, and the people agree to follow the rules set forth by the government. Americans seem to have forgotten that their government is supposed to give them more than headaches. It should be providing education, health care, and jobs to the people who need it. And everyone needs something from the government, not just the underprivileged. I’m by no means a socialist, but the government should be striving to improve society, not drive it into recession in the name of principle. I don’t see the government working to benefit the people. I certainly don’t see my tax dollars going towards anything but war and the depletion of natural resources.

In the years during the Cold War, America was truly a leading nation, with the healthiest people and the best paying jobs. But, since the decline of the Soviet Union and the growth of the global market, America continues to fall behind. American students are ranked lower by international research each year. So is the health care system. The U.S. health system spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product than any other country but ranks 37 out of 191 countries according to its performance, the World Health Organization reported. And why? Because the money is consistently directed away from the people and causes that will ensure our continued success. As domestic programs continue to operate at reduced capacity (or are chopped all together), America falls behind.

How can a government be allowed to so blatantly fail its people? We are paying taxes at a rate comparable to developed European and Asian nations. The same countries that are ranked ahead of America. We must demand a government that puts our money to use for us. We should revamp the 1950’s public school system into something that supports modern learning and technology. By decreasing the tax breaks for the wealthy by just $5000, we can generate $1.2 billion in revenue for education programs. We should demand a repeal to the outrageous tax breaks for big oil companies. Hell, we should demand corporations pay the $300 billion in back-taxes that they’ve owed since Bush took office.

Do the wealthy pay more taxes? Sure. Is it fair? Definitely. In this social contract we’ve created, we owe it to each other to do what we can to improve our society. In the end, whether we’re rich or poor, we are all American. And what we’re doing is looking out for each other and the future of the nation. And the next time a politician tells you “no new taxes”, watch out, because you’ll end up paying more in the long run.

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