Tax software. Tea parties. Now a plane purposely crashed into an IRS building.
Americans have always been uneasy about taxation, and let’s face it: Most don’t like to give up money and hand it over to the government. I was enraged last year as I saw my hard-earned wages bailing out companies that helped bring us to near-financial ruin. It angers me even more to watch Congress bicker and fight over health care only to get nothing done.
With all of this in mind, we need to take a step back and ask the question, “Are our tax rates too high?”
Some will say any amount of taxes is too much; they assume that roads, schools and the military fund themselves with a car wash and bake sales. Others argue that the government should provide only basic services like roads, military protection, police and the mail. Still others look for universal health care and secondary education and a guaranteed zero percent unemployment rate.
Any assessment of tax rates, however, must consider what the government is providing. A good place to start considering how much Americans really pay is to compare our tax rate against other industrialized, market-driven, democratic nations.
Every few years the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) compares the individual tax burdens of citizens in member nations by creating an average tax rate based on income tax, Social Security type contributions and employer taxes. In 2005, the countries with the largest average tax burden for a married couple with two dependents were Poland (42.1 percent), Hungary (42.1 percent) and France (41.7 percent).
The countries scoring the lowest were Ireland (8.1 percent), Iceland (11 percent), the United States (11.9 percent) and Luxembourg (12.2 percent). (MSN has compiled a nice table of all 30 countries.) In the western hemisphere, we find ourselves well below our neighbors’ rates, with Mexico at 18.2 percent and Canada at 21.5 percent.
What is perhaps most striking is how far off the mark we are from other nations with similar economic systems. Germany (37.5 percent), the United Kingdom (27.1 percent) and Japan (24.9 percent) all come in much higher than the American rate of 11.9 percent.
With an average income tax rate that is dwarfed by the rest of the world, one must ask, “What’s the problem?” Why do so many feel our government has us under the jackboot of taxation? As one of the globe’s most influential and affluent nations, one might expect us to have the highest tax burden. Granted, many of the countries that have higher tax rates also have many more social programs for underserved populations, but this still does not justify the claim that our tax rate is out of control.
So why the tea parties? Why so much anger about taxation? Why resentment?
Too many of us have grown apathetic to government’s contributions to the general welfare. While driving down the interstate at 70 mph, we forget how those fancy roads came to be. We sit in nice offices and forget that we went to public school or a subsidized public university. We forget how those schools got funding, and we fail to reflect on the condition of our society without those funds.
I am amazed at how many complain about government involvement in health care – until they need an emergency room. The average American forgets how involved state and federal government is in our education, economy and personal lives. We complain about “big brother,” but we happily enjoy the benefits of his oversight.
The other reason I think so many Americans have become angry about our tax burden is that they what to know how they can pay 11.9 percent. For the vast majority of the middle and lower-middle class, 11.9 percent sounds pretty good. Many in the middle and lower-middle classes are hard-working folks who make too much to qualify for government subsidy programs, but do not make enough to take advantage of tax deductions that can be used to reduce one’s overall burden.
Many of these working American feel they are paying a disproportionate higher rate than those that could afford it. In addition, many in the middle class see the government aiding the poor and bailing out the rich but are simply frustrated by the lack of assistance they receive from the government.
Therefore, it’s time to stop complaining about taxes. They’re a given. They’re not going away. And truth be told, we have a good deal in the USA.
This is not to say our tax system is without problems or even injustice, but it is high time we stop complaining about how much – or how little – we pay.
Monty M. Self is the oncology chaplain for the Baptist Health Medical Center – Little Rock and an adjunct ethics instructor for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Senior Staff Chaplain and Clinical Ethicist at the Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.