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THE MACHINERY OF GOVERNMENT- TAXPAYING
1. Taxpaying an Important Step in making and running the Machinery of Government. One of the most unpopular things in any country is taxes. In other words, paying a bill is always less pleasant than buying goods and using them. Many people grumble about the high cost of government without realizing that the pleasures which they every day enjoy are worth to them a hundred times more than the taxes they pay. Often a single thing that the government does for a family is worth the total tax paid by it; for example, the pure-food law, which protects the health of the family by making it a crime to sell adulterated or impure foods. Some of the chief reasons why taxes are so unpopular are:
1. Many Americans believe that in a free country each person should have as few burdens as possible. Such people do not realize that every time they demand of their town meeting, city council, state or national legislature, that a new law be passed, they are taxing themselves. The people wanted and demanded a Federal law providing mothers' pensions for widowed mothers in straightened circumstances. To pay these pensions and to pay the officials who were to attend to the task meant a little heavier tax for every person in the United States. The people wanted and demanded an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. The people of many states demanded that their state legislatures vote a bonus to be paid to all their ex-soldiers. The enforcement of these laws meant a heavy tax on every taxpayer.
Every person should have it firmly fixed in his mind that what the legislators whom he helps choose do in each session will surely affect his pocketbook. If he is to have any say about how much the town, state, and nation take from his purse, he must first keep informed as to the bills that are likely to be passed, and use his influence to prevent or hasten their passage.
2. Perhaps the next most common reason why taxes are unpopular is that the people seldom pay for things when they have them. In 1917-1918, when the United States was actually having war, it was easy for the people to understand the need of heavy taxes, but they did not realize that as long as they lived they would be paying war taxes. In a recent year Congress and many of the states appropriated large sums of money for improving harbors. For all such improvements
Government offices must be housed in well-equipped buildings. It is the
people's money that builds them and keeps them in good condition
the people pay, not immediately after they are made, but for a long series of years thereafter. The new schoolhouse in which many pupils are studying this book will be paid for next year and for several succeeding years by the people of the town.
3. A third reason that taxes are so unpopular with some people is that they want "something for nothing.” Many believe that government has some mysterious source by which it can pay for things, others think that the rich should pay all the taxes. These are the people who misuse public-library books, strew papers and peanut shells in public parks and on the sidewalks. They abuse the rented houses in which they live, waste city water, and in a hundred careless or malicious ways help raise the taxes of the whole community. They do not know
that to place a tax only on the rich would be to change the government from a democracy to an autocracy. In a democracy no legal discrimination can be made against any class of people. To tax only the rich would make the poor people the oppressors. The people who advocate such a method of taxing do not understand that in a short time they themselves would have to pay heavier taxes than ever, for if the rich were forced to pay all the expenses of the government, — for all the new roads, new fire engines, new schoolhouses, and school-teachers' salaries, -- it would take so much of their money that in a short time they also would belong to the poor class. No one class could or should pay all the taxes of a government which is made by all the people and helps all the people.
2. Taxes are Necessary because there can never be Something for Nothing. There is no such thing as something for nothing. The only "free" thing America has ever offered, as we pointed out in Chapter II, was space. Everything else had to be purchased at the high price of hard labor. Today there is not even space to be had for nothing. Space, buildings, conveniences, assistance, all have to be paid for either in hard work or in a money equivalent. Land and buildings we pay for in money; conveniences and assistance we pay for in money, and when the conveniences and assistance that we pay for happen to be furnished by the government, we call them taxes. There can be no government without taxes, and the more government does for the people, the heavier the taxes are bound to be. As we have seen, in Chapter II, the true American citizens in their work and home life help themselves toward success in every way possible. But they have found it difficult or inconvenient to do many things alone or through private organizations, and have made government machinery to do these for them.
Herein lies the secret of high taxes or low taxes. The more people do for themselves or do through private organizations, the less they will have to pay in taxes to the government. Whenever the people want to go back to the days when each man dug his own well, planted his own fields, cured his own hams, taught his own children, they can reduce taxes almost to the vanishing point. And at any time they can greatly reduce taxes by getting along with the old roads or inadequate fire machinery. Or they can form societies to build better roads and buy new fire machinery. But in both cases each person, rich or poor, must pay taxes—although we are not accustomed to calling them that. Going without good roads or making good roads, independently of government, costs time and money. Old roads consume valuable time in traveling and wear out vehicles more rapidly; inadequate, fire machinery results in disastrous fires that destroy or delay work. All such delays and disasters cost time and money which equal if they do not exceed what the people would pay for taxes. If the worker gets help through private associations to which he belongs, he must either pay dues
Without the roads through wonderful gorges or give time, or both.
built by the people's tax money, some of the 3. One Way of greatness of America would be lost to us. keeping Taxes Down.
(From painting by Maxfield Parrish) Taxes either of time or of money are inevitable. But there is danger that the people will transfer to the government some of the things they should do for themselves. Rather than pay the price of hard work necessary to secure certain things for themselves many persons prefer to have the government provide them. Many people want the state or the nation to provide such helps as old-age
© Clark Equipment Co.
pensions and unemployment insurance. In other words they want the government to come to their assistance when they are out of work or when they are old and moneyless. Unfortunately there are many persons in the United States like the man who was found to have asked for and received aid from nineteen different government and private agencies. The true American, however, wants independence all the years of his life; that is, he wants to feel that in his old age and in the dark, jobless days he can still be master of his fate. He wants of government laws that stimulate trade and protect his savings, so that there will always be work opportunities for those who will prepare for them and search for them.
4. Efficient Government Officials are never too Expensive. The chief concern of each person in this matter should be to see not that government does everything possible for the people, but that the people require government to do for them only those things which they find it impossible or impracticable to do for themselves. But they should see to it that whatever government does is well done. At the cheapest, efficient government assistance will be expensive, so that the time will never come in this country when large sums of money will not have to be collected to defray the expenses of government. The kind of men who are needed as heads of the various government departments are not cheap men. They are hundred-thousanddollar-a-year men, but we often ask them to give us a hundred thousand dollars' worth of service for five and ten thousand dollars. Consequently we do not always get the best men, but are satisfied with those who, while they may be honest and earnest, do not have the ability to lead the way to advancement. We often have heavy taxes because we have cheap officials. On the other hand we sometimes have heavy taxes because officials are willingly wasteful or dishonest in appropriating and spending money.
5. Making Taxes that help Work Life and Home Life. The next concern of the people should be to see that taxes are laid in a way to distribute the payment as fairly as possible. To