Why So Emotional About Taxes?

By Graham Glover

At some point next month, Congress will begin putting together a budget (or at least a continuing resolution. They don’t seem keen on passing actual budgets these days). As that conversation gets started, there will likely be a lively debate on taxes. Specifically, how much the Federal Government should tax individual and business incomes, profits, etc. I look forward to that debate and hope there is some meaningful dialogue on whether tax rates should be adjusted, and if so, how and why.

I suspect anyone reading this article already has an opinion on taxes. While nobody likes to pay them, we all accept the reality that we always will. The question, at least in a democratic republic, is how much we should pay and exactly what should be taxed. Again, I’m pretty sure most of our opinions on this topic are fixed. I highly doubt my thoughts will sway yours.

But what I’m curious about and what continues to perplex me is why we get so emotional about taxes. In other words, why is this issue so divisive in our politics?

I understand why issues pertaining to our right to freely assemble and practice our faith, issues affecting ours and others right to live, and issues dealing with America’s involvement in foreign affairs are divisive. These issues speak to very essence of how we understand and practice liberty. Our very freedom is deeply connected by these issues.

But taxes? Can we really say the same about how much money the government requires us to return to them? Are tax rates a reflection of whether we are truly free?

I know, I know: no taxation without representation. But unless you are a resident of the District of Columbia, all of us are duly represented by the government entities that tax us (whether you support that representative is an entirely different question!). So, simmer down with your revolutionary calls to liberty.

Why is it then that we are so emotional when it comes to our opinion on tax rates? Honestly, I think people get more emotional on how much they pay in taxes than on any other issue. Tempers flare on this topic more than those I previously noted and even more than the recent happenings in Charlottesville or the pending issues of immigration, health care, etc. And I think this emotional response is rather silly.

Look, I’m not suggesting that any tax rate would be acceptable, nor am I suggesting that we shouldn’t pay taxes. Both of these extreme positions are equally absurd.

What I am asking, though, is why it matters. Not why it matters practically or economically (this is why a healthy debate by our elected officials would be beneficial), but why it matters to us emotionally. Why is this issue so important to us?

For my conservative friends, would it be that horrible if our income taxes were raised a few percentage points? What if these dollars helped fund alternatives to abortion and further funded our military?

For my liberal friends, is it that awful to cut rates on businesses, eliminating taxing the same income two or even three times? Wouldn’t a more business-friendly tax code allow small businesses to thrive in some of our most economically deprived areas?

For both sides, I ask this: Is this the issue that defines your politics? Are tax rates really that important to our body politic?

I think our emotions could be better exerted elsewhere, focused on issues that affect our liberty in much more profound ways.

But that’s just me. And I suspect I’m not changing your thoughts on taxes any time soon…

7 thoughts on “Why So Emotional About Taxes?

  1. Yes, I am glad the USA doesn’t have as high taxes as Europe and Scandinavia. I feel it is a privilege to support the military, police, schools, and FEMA. I have personally benefited from these institutions. The emotion might be related to how much we want to hold onto and amass more $.
    When I read the Bible and see how Jesus spoke of helping th sick and the poor, it makes me reflect on my life. How about you?

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    1. Completely agree that our emotions on taxes are tied to our desire not to give more.

      There is a huge tension that needs to be in play on this issue: 1) Stewardship: that is, the government should be good stewards of our tax dollars and 2) A willingness on our part to freely and gladly pay these taxes. Citizenship assumes we are part of something beyond ourselves. We are part of a community. In this instance, a city, county, state, nation.

      I have mixed emotions on how much is enough for our taxes. I’m persuaded by both sides for different reasons. But, at the end of the day, I don’t think this issue rises anywhere near the level of importance of our politics.

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  2. Most reasonable citizens understand the need for taxation, and are comfortable paying a fair share, but over many decades, we have observed our own government acting irresponsible in the stewardship of the economy. There is a balance between the extravagant overspending of our tax money, and the need to save for a rainy day. Given the fact that the brightest economic minds in the country have not influenced the politicians to be responsible, we are now a debtor nation with trillions of dollars owed and up to our ears in credit debt. At some point, the chickens will come home to roost. Empires of the past have dissolved into chaos due to national debts reaching a limit, resulting in civil disorder, unrest, and want. However, some of our countrymen and women, having buried their faces in the sand, seem to wrongly believe our treasury is infinite. They are wrong. We have been squandering our future, and the future of our children for too long. God help us as a country, because the festering problem of spending too much, raising the budget ceiling continually, and kicking the can down the road will eventually come to an uncomfortable screeching halt.

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    1. John, I think we’re on the same page with respect to government spending and perhaps I should address that in a separate article. JGPadawan makes a similar argument below. I concur!

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    1. Mike, that’s a fair argument and concern. And why I think a good, lengthy, and very public debate on this issue is important!

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  3. I believe the emotion comes from the continual drum beat from both sides about how each side is ruining the country.
    As an example, the far right will have you believe that social security is a big reason for our national debt and the left will tell you social security funds were stolen to pay for the wars and tax cuts. Neither are correct.
    Social security hasn’t added one red cent to our national debt. By law, it’s not allowed to do that. In fact, the social security trust fund is the single largest holder of our country’s national debt at about $2.8 trillion.
    While the government has borrowed all the excess money social security received over the years to pay for other things, as required by law, and will have to pay it back. So it wasn’t stolen until it isn’t paid back.
    That $2.8 trillion is there to bridge the gap between social security receivables and expenses that has been anticipated for the baby boomers since 1983.
    Also, all of the administration of social security cost less than 1% of the annual social security funds, which is pretty efficient. Just compare that to the total fees and charges by financial institutions.

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