Immediately following this statement came a phrase Americans have been turning over in their minds ever since: “But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except for death and taxes.”
Franklin wasn’t actually the first to come up with this sentiment – that credit belongs to English writer Daniel Defoe – but he certainly made it stick. Even Scarlett O’Hara, amidst her Southern struggles, exclaimed “Death and taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them!” It would seem that paying our taxes ranks right up there with the circle of life.
From the first whispers of revolution to today’s political talking points, complaining about taxes is an American tradition. The idea of giving our hard-earned money over to the government just doesn’t sit well with a lot of us. In many ways, our entire basis for being a country is really just a balancing act of maintaining a government to address the needs of people who don’t trust that government.
Everyone here has some list of things they think the government is wasting money on. From the military, to healthcare, to football, there is no end to the things folks within society wish the government would stop spending money on. Some of these arguments have merit and it’s important that we discuss them, as the government should be held accountable for what it spends. After all, it’s a good amount of money citizens shell out each year to keep the government machinery oiled.
However, what we often forget to consider is what we are getting for our money. If I wanted to, I could leave my house right now and drive a thousand miles west. The roads along the way would be paved, well marked, and safe. I’d be able to read the signs because of skills I learned at public schools. I could trust the other drivers around me because we'd all been tested before being allowed on the road.
Now obviously these things are not gifts from the government. They’re services we’ve paid for. Some would argue that we could pay companies to do the same for us, perhaps even do a better job at it. Either way, the money I’ve paid has yielded some results and I’m grateful to have them.
I’m grateful because I’ve lived in places where this isn’t the case. I’ve seen taxes collected and then swallowed up by greedy regimes that let their people die and their cities crumble as they live lavish lifestyles. I’ve seen streets that are too unsafe to walk at night because it’s the police you can’t trust. I’ve seen what happens when the taxes you pay really don’t yield outcomes. So, when I say I’m grateful, I mean that it’s nice to able to enjoy the benefits of my taxes instead of throwing money away in society that squanders them. In essence, part of me sees taxes in America as the price we pay to enjoy the lives we lead here.
Given all that, we still have a long way to go. As I said, debating about how the government spends our money is important. And when we stop and consider that the taxes paid in other developed countries aren’t that much more (and in some cases are lower), yet we still don’t have access certain things like universal healthcare, university educations for all who can get in, and stronger social safety nets, then we really should ask what we’re doing with all this money. And if we don’t like the answer, then perhaps it’s time to reconsider our priorities.
So the next time you find yourself complaining about paying taxes, stop and think about what those taxes pay for. You enjoy a lot of the services they provide, which means maybe they’re not such a bad thing. And if you think they could be used in better ways, then it’s time to speak up as to how. Because, as Ben Franklin said, as sure as we all die, you’ll be sure to keep paying taxes until then.