My Turn: Fair taxation is patriotic

For the Monitor
Published: 5/5/2019 12:20:17 AM

The assertion that “taxation is theft” is one of the talking points Republicans use to discredit Democratic tax proposals. Whenever a tax plan requires those with a disproportionate share of wealth to contribute a fair share to the costs of government programs meant to equalize opportunity, and thus success, it’s labeled as “tax and spend,” “socialist” and even “communist.”

There is nothing “communist” or even “socialist” about the budget proposal passed by the N.H. House of Representatives. These terms, repeated by Republicans, are sound bites to distract the public from looking too closely at how Republican tax plans benefit people who already have so much money they make money on their money.

The talking points misrepresent Democratic taxation policy so voters don’t look too closely at the Republican scheme of cutting state taxes and passing costs to local governments.

This downshifting has been a major factor in the 50% increase in property taxes since 2002. An over-reliance on property taxes to fund basic government services affects people who can afford it the least. The elderly and others on fixed incomes live with the threat of losing their homes. Young families can’t afford to buy houses because of high property taxes. Businesses avoid areas with high property tax rates and low values.

Some Republicans claim that taxation represents tyranny and their opposition to any taxes is to protect people from a “cruel and oppressive” government” — the definition of tyranny. Developing a revenue structure that more fairly distributes the burden of taxation is not tyrannical. It arises from a fairly elected majority party that is willing to institute fair tax policies.

A recent column by Rep. Josh Yokela (Monitor Opinion, April 1) discussing taxation as theft includes the most disturbing mischaracterization of taxation, that taxes can go so far they become “legalized” slavery. Equating taxes with slavery, on any level, illustrates a disturbingly shallow understanding of the history of slavery in this country, and a blindness to the distribution of wealth and influence based on factors beyond most people’s control.

Rep. Yokela makes the case for viewing taxation as theft by equating property with “the physical manifestation of your time and effort.”

This assertion ignores both history and current economic realities. How does that calculation take into account the fact that women, on average, earn 80% of what men earn for the same work? Do those who share Rep. Yokela’s view believe that the 20% greater gain in property men get simply for being male is a truer manifestation of time and effort?

Do they believe that black households in the United States, on average, have 10% the total wealth of white households because black people do 90% less work?

This discriminatory distribution of wealth began during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, and escalated under the documented racist policies of the government and banks after the Second World War. Through the practice known as redlining, black families were shut out of the housing market, and when they could buy a home it was valued for less. Because real estate is the primary means Americans have of transferring wealth from one generation to the next, this disadvantage has carried on into the current unequal distribution of wealth based on race.

To equate property with time and effort, and taxation with slavery, erases the reality that for more than a century the vast majority of black people could not acquire property regardless of how hard they worked. In fact they were property. There’s never been an economic reckoning in this country to account for the wealth created through slave labor still being passed through generations of Americans, wealth that is not a result of their own time and effort.

How does this definition of property take into account the veteran of the Vietnam War who has lived with chronic pain for his entire adult life, and suffers from PTSD? How does the time and effort of his service to our country count toward his property, which has been diminished because of disabilities acquired through that service?

There is example after example of unfair distributions of wealth and “property” that have no relation to someone’s time and effort. And so many examples of time and effort that don’t result in property – raising children, caring for an elderly parent, the slavery that still exists in the form of human trafficking.

The argument for taxation as theft, or slavery, falls apart right here. If the government is not allowed to tax your property because it’s what you earned, what should government do about all the people who have property they didn’t earn? How about families who have worked hard for generations but own less property due to the color of their skin? Or the single mother who owns less property than a male counterpart, in spite of working harder?

Taxation is not theft; it’s the patriotic backbone of democracy, the sacrifice all of us make in the service of our state and our country. Taxation arises from the recognition that our economic system favors some over others, and those in favor have a duty to pay back into the system that helped get them where they are. We can’t build communities only by taking, and by viewing doing our fair share as theft. Or slavery.

(Grace Mattern is a poet and writer who lives in Northwood.)


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