Why do we pay taxes?

Governments tax people.  They always have.  A good question to ask, though, and one we haven’t seen asked lately is — what’s that money for?

The Founders had an idea about what taxes were for.  In the Constitution Art. I, Sec. 8, they spelled out the purpose behind taxes:

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.

Since the concept of a welfare state lay decades in the future, when the Founders referred to “Welfare of the United States” they were contemplating infrastructure the would shore up America as a whole:  roads, bridges, water works, etc.  So, taxes were to pay for America’s defense, to pay America’s debts, and to keep a functioning infrastructure.

As time went by, the concept of Welfare expanded to become “welfare as we know it,” with the Government taking upon itself the responsibilities that used to lie with private charities.  There’s a certain logic to that, because charity can be spotty or, in times of severe economic distress, non-existent.

The one thing that taxes never were in America was socialist wealth distribution by which the Government casts of all pretenses that it simply needs money to manage its own responsibilities and instead demands that the rich give up their wealth simply because it’s unfair that they are wealthy.  Democrats might have thought that, but they were never stupid enough to stay that.

That is, that kind of honest stupidity has never been the case until now.  Joe Biden finally came out and said what Obama’s been hinting at for so long — if the Democrats control the White House and Congress, the primary purpose of federal taxes will be to take money away from the rich because they don’t deserve it:

Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden says that paying higher taxes is the patriotic thing to do for wealthier Americans.

Biden says he and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama want to “take money and put it back in the pocket of middle-class people.”

As is so often the case with “Progressive” policies, this plan — to rob from the rich and give to the poor — is in fact profoundly regressive, harking back to an era in America that last officially existed in 1783 and before.  You see, this kind of wealth redistribution makes sense (assuming it makes sense at all) only in a class society that sees wealth locked into ancient aristocratic families, and that has no room for social and economic movement.

Think of France in the years leading to the French Revolution:  Fabulously wealth aristocrats and starving peasants, all locked into economic strata that had existed unchanged for centuries.  While it’s true that there was a middle class that saw some movement, the vast bulk of the population was either immovably starving or immovably rich.  Even worse — the rich didn’t pay taxes and the poor did.

America is so not like that.  With the exception of a very few families, today’s rich Americans aren’t people who are just living off of money that’s been locked in the family for centuries.  They’re not rich by accident of birth.  They’ve made money because they’ve worked hard, because they’ve shown initiative and, perhaps, because they been lucky.

Every single family in my neighborhood, and it’s a very comfortable neighborhood, comes from a family that was either poor when the grandparents were growing up or when the parents were growing up.  The doctors and lawyers and professors and realtors in this neighborhood come from homes in which their parents (or, at most, their grandparents) were immigrants or blue collar workers or bottom of the rung white collar workers.  Their parents (or grandparents) worked hard, some invested successfully, and all insisted that their children work hard in and out of school.  It’s those values and that work that created wealth.

Why in the world, then, should the government demand that the hardworking American rich be forced to give away that money for some Ailinsky/Ayers idea of fairness?  What kind of fairness is that?  It’s out and out theft, that’s what it is.  It’s antiquated socialist redistribution of wealth that has no place in America’s incredibly mobile society.

And mobile it’s always been, something you can see quite vividly if you go to one of my favorite museums in the whole world:  The Tenement Museum in New York.  This museum, in New York’s famous Lower East Side (an area once more crowded and squalid than Calcutta) gives you an insight into how America’s immigrants lived in the years between 1877 and 1932.  I can tell you how they lived in one world:  horribly.

Imagine an apartment about the size and shape of a school bus, only a little shorter, divided into three rooms, with only the front room having a window.  There is, of course, no air conditioning, but there’s also no electricity and running water comes from a hand pump in the kitchen (assuming the pump works). There are four of these apartments to the floor and, if you were lucky enough to move into the building as of the 1890s, there is a single toilet serving the whole floor.

At night, you live there with your family:  Mama, Papa, and five to seven (or maybe more) children.  Oh, and of course, the boarder, who provides that little bit of extra money you need to feed the family.  He’s so important, he sleeps in the back bedroom, all by himself.  The rest of you sleep on and under the kitchen table, on the stove top, and on chairs arrayed around the front room.

During the day, the young children go to school, because that’s how they’re going to make it in America.  The older children work.  But the apartment isn’t empty.  These apartments were used as sweatshops so that, in the stifling heat of a New York summer, you might have up to 14 people laboring to piece together clothing.  You can get some idea of what the scene was like by looking at Jacob Riis’ seminal book, How The Other Half Lives.  It all goes back to that single word I used before:  It was horrible.

But you want to know something interesting?  Because of census records, we know what happened to the families that lived in those tenements.  They didn’t stay there.  The children benefited from those educations, and they got solid blue collar jobs or, if they were smart, profitable white collar jobs.  And they moved out of the slums and into the suburbs.  They made it! (For two books telling about the ones who made it, I recommend either As Thousands Cheer : The Life of Irving Berlin or the out-of-print Everything But Money.)

This wasn’t inherited wealth.  This was money immigrants and their children earned because America’s free-flowing capitalistic system rewarded people with energy and initiative.  It still does, but Joe Biden and Barack Obama want to change that.  They want to punish people with energy and initiative, and take their money away in search of some elusive fairness — a “fairness” that even Obama concedes will destroy an already fragile economy.  Right about now, anybody who wants to is invited to tell me how it’s going to be fair to anyone to drive the American economy into the socialist ditch.

If anything, Joe Biden’s pronouncement about taxes is the most unpatriotic thing I’ve ever heard.  It runs entirely counter to the Constitution, it seeks to destroy people who have worked hard, and it constitutes a socialist taking on a mass scale never before expressly contemplated in America.

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  • Mike Devx

    Book, you said,

    Joe Biden finally came out and said what Obama’s been hinting at for so long — if the Democrats control the White House and Congress, the primary purpose of federal taxes will be to take money away from the rich because they don’t deserve it.

    Obama’s been even more forward about it than hinting, I think. I ran across this in the transcript of his interview with Bill OReilly last week:

    “That’s class warfare,” O’Reilly objected. “You’re taking
    the wealthy in America, the big earners . . . you’re taking money away from
    them and you’re giving it to people who don’t. That’s called income
    redistribution. It’s a socialist tenet. Come on, you know that.”

    “Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill,” Obama replied. “Teddy Roosevelt supported
    a progressive income tax.” He acknowledged that he doesn’t enjoy paying
    taxes either – “you think I like writing the check?” – but that “there
    are certain things we’ve got to do.” His tax proposal, he explained, was
    a matter of civility:

    “If I am sitting pretty and you’ve got a waitress who is making minimum
    wage plus tips, and I can afford it and she can’t, what’s the big deal for
    me to say, I’m going to pay a little bit more? That’s neighborliness.


    You can’t get any clearer than that, can you? Doesn’t it speak volumes?

    The definition of neighborliness, is for the government to force you to give up what you have, and give it to someone who doesn’t have. From each according to his means, to each according to his needs. Neighborliness, for Obama and Biden, matches *exactly* the classic definition as defined by Lenin and implemented in Communist Russia.

    Here, I thought neighborliness meant helping out your neighbor in a time of need. You know: voluntarily. Obama’s got his 1.2 million dollar mansion, yet he has a brother living on $1 per month. Obama has been neighborly to his brother to the tune of zero dollars. Obama and Biden have contributed to charity at a level that can best be described as nearly squat.

    But they want to force all of us, at the point of the government taxation gun, to become more “neighborly”. As anyone knows, this never works, and economic productivity plummets. Because the benefits of being among “those who need” vastly outweight the benefits of being among “those with means”. In such a system, more and more people naturally become needy until the whole country collapses into complete misery. The piggy bank always empties.

    And note the end result in Russia: Once the Barack Obama Experiment in Communism actually ends (after the complete collapse) the people have been so thoroughly trained to the system, in just a few generations, that they are all helpless. Misery becomes self-perpetuating, an endless cycle.

  • McLaren

    At the root of this is illiteracy in both history and economics. Neo-liberals are grossly ignorant of our founding history. They cannot apply a thimble-full of historic relevance to anything happening today, and are by default incapable of applying rational analysis to current events.

    Secondly, their vacuum of education on even rudimentary economics is not only crippling, but dangerous. Populist drivel is used to whip up non-existing problems and socialist dogma is offered as the cure. They gobble this stuff up like it’s chili at a cold pre-game tailgate party.

    They have been told, constantly, that there is only a zero-sum solution to everything. They believe that if a wealthy family’s mansion is torn to the ground, it will somehow benefit the others in society. They are taught that static analysis is the only way to think. They are told that tax cuts for anybody but themselves actually hurts them and mathematically reduce government revenue.

    Dynamic analysis — the action of evaluating an action for its reaction — is a completely foreign concept. To explain that tax reductions eventually increase economic activity benefitting all of us and increasing revenue (not that I think that is a good idea) is impossible in their static minds.

    Obama admitted he knows tax cuts benefit the entire economy. Biden, not so sure. The fact that Obama knows it, but insists on preying on the ignorance of his followers makes me despise him– thoroughly. I have nothing but contempt for those who prey on the ignorant for personal aggrandizement. He’s nothing more than a pick-pocket or sidewalk shell-gamer stealing from the ignorant.

    But he is one of thousands of neo-liberals who do this, every day. I puke at the thought of them.

    Lastly, since I am considered “middle-class” I am will to declare Joe Obiden “Yankee Doodle Dandy” if he will simply cut me a check for, oh, say $20,000. Then he can sleep easier in the knowledge of his deep patriotism, and I can blow the money on a trip to Fiji.

    I hate these people.

  • BrianE

    Obama admitted he knows tax cuts benefit the entire economy. Biden, not so sure. The fact that Obama knows it, but insists on preying on the ignorance of his followers makes me despise him– thoroughly.

    His base want to punish the rich to achieve social justice. I’m sure they’ll not be happy until we return to the tax rates of the 60’s and 70’s.

    I suspect that Obama is being used by his need to gain the approval of his father. Since is father is dead, his leftist mentors serve as surrogates.

    Seeking approval of his marxist father who rejected him.
    Father unable to give approval.
    Seek approval of those his father approved of (Frank Davis, Alinsky, etc.).

    It’s sad because he may be a decent fellow. He’s just fallen in with a bad crowd. That’s not to say Obama isn’t complicit in this.

  • Ymarsakar

    Obama is free to give more money in taxes. What’s stopping him?