Sally Jones: Taxes and Thanksgiving

“Cut My Taxes!” Americans have heard this cry for years – and we’ve heard it shouted angrily in recent months. We hear that we pay too much in taxes, that government makes poor use of our money, and that our prosperity would rise if only taxes would fall.

But in reality our taxes have fallen steadily in recent years. In 2001 and 2003 Congress passed temporary tax cuts which will expire at the end of 2010. We must now decide what good or bad has come of that experiment and what tax law we want for the future.

Most of us recognize that one size doesn’t really fit all – and this holds true for income tax rates. Maintaining a lower level of taxation for the vast majority of Americans makes sense in today’s hard times. But why should we do the same for the tiny percentage of citizens – a minority to which I gratefully belong – whose annual earnings exceed $250,000? The American people borrowed $700 billion to give people like me a tax cut over the last decade. Why should they borrow an additional $700 billion to extend the tax breaks?

Congress should let our tax cuts expire for the sake of the country, especially in this economy. Who would lose by this step toward tax fairness? Only those among us who can afford such a loss. Who would gain? All Americans – including those few of us who would pay more taxes.

We cannot sustain our nation – not its defense; not its essential infrastructure such as roads, rails, bridges, dams and communications; not its economic place in the world; not the health and education of its people; not its ability to respond to natural disasters such as earthquake, flood or hurricane; not the protections we expect it to provide against man-made disasters, toxins (domestic and imported), buccaneering corporations or hazardous products – without securing for our government the funding it must have to accomplish all of these things.

Recognizing our shared responsibility – in the present instance by payment of taxes – we might live up to the example of earlier generations who left for us a remarkable system of institutions and infrastructure. By abandoning that responsibility, we would betray both our predecessors and our descendants, and we would gain nothing but a temporary self-indulgence, at a price that will impose itself on present and future generations.

Do we bear any collective responsibility? I think so. Consider the example of the season.

On Thanksgiving Day most of us will gather with family or friends or both. We will sit down to tables crowded with the various dishes that speak to us of this special occasion, and indulge ourselves more than we usually do. However much or little else we feel thankful for on that day, we will heartily thank the one or more cooks who toiled in the kitchen to prepare this dinner for us.

We thank the cooks because we have seen their effort first hand. But how many others have contributed to make our feasts possible – others whom we never think about or credit? Who taught our cooks their skills or created our recipes? Who grew, harvested, preserved or transported the foods? Who built our ovens, plumbed our kitchens, and made our utensils, dishes and tables?

Those of us with high incomes ought to ask similar questions about the plenty we enjoy daily. We could hardly enjoy our success without assistance we hardly notice: the infrastructure that allows businesses to grow and prosper, the law enforcement that protect patents and copyrights, and the productiveness and purchasing power of publicly-educated fellow citizens. Without national investments – supported by our taxes – no wealth would be sustained in this country and those at the top would not have the extraordinary lives they have today. Let us remember to be grateful.

Let’s make sure those outside of the top two percent of Americans can live and thrive. Unless we foster prosperity for our country and for every citizen, all of us will suffer the consequences of living in a society of the ailing, the untrained and inefficient, and the unruly. Let’s pay the taxes – those of us who can afford them – to sustain the America that has offered opportunity since its founding. Unless we restore strength to its economy, institutions, and structures, our country will decline – and everyone’s prospects with it.

Sally Jones is a member of a high-income household in Minneapolis who supports Wealth For The Common Good and its goal of promoting shared prosperity and fair taxation.


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