What would you give to live in the greatest country in the world?
Most Americans — especially most politicians — argue taxes are too high. It’s like an article of faith. One exception is President Barack Obama, of course, who is campaigning to raise taxes on millionaires.
Beyond the president’s proposal, no one ever seems to say how much the average household or business should pay, only that they pay too much. As a percentage of income, taxes overall are as low as they were in the late 1950s. Still, most would argue for cutting them further.
Probably that’s just human nature, but it’s a heckuva way to fund government. If the goal is to run America as cheaply as possible, the risk is we may eventually get what we pay for. We are accustomed to prime rib services, but seem to want them at the price of hamburger.
So the question remains: If the tax rate is wrong, what is the right tax rate? Since no one is asking that question, let’s ask it here, just for fun. What would you pay for the public services you use in the greatest country in the world? What do I have to do to get you into this country … today?
We’re wiping out all taxes and starting over. In the style of public radio fundraising — which invites listeners, on the honor system, to pay an amount commensurate with the value they receive — think about what you would give in exchange for the government services below over the course of a year.
And don’t lowball it unless you’re prepared to pick up and move to a Third World country or to someplace where many of your daily needs are provided for free, such as the White House or the halls of Congress.
Don’t be vague. Don’t be angry. Don’t be flippant. Give a dollar amount. Be specific.
• What’s it worth to you to have the top military power on the planet protecting your country’s skies and borders 24 hours a day every day? Insert yearly dollar amount here.
• What’s it worth to have police, firefighters and EMS professionals — trained and equipped to protect your life and property at the punch of three buttons on your phone: 911?
• What’s it worth to have paved and snow-plowed roads that you can hop on and get wherever you need to go in the Greatest Country in the World? To feel safe on an airplane?
•What’s it worth to buy meat at the grocery or order a meal in a restaurant and feel confident the food and the kitchen have been inspected and found to be free of bacteria that would make you sick, even kill you?
• What’s it worth to have someone other than the manufacturer testing the safety of the prescription drugs you take and the cars you drive? What’s it worth to have someone monitoring the quality of the air and water you depend on? What’s it worth to you to have a municipal sewer system?
• What’s it worth to have a bus come by your house in the morning, pick up your children, and take them to school, where accredited staff with up-to-date technology will teach them everything from reading to vocational skills, plus deal with special needs, offer breakfast and lunch, return them home in the afternoon, then do it all again the next day, nine months out of the year, for 13 years?
• What’s it worth to provide medical care and a dignified life for senior citizens who already have put in their working years and now need a little help with their daily needs? Maybe think of it this way: What would it cost if you were to take in an elderly relative or neighbor and provide all that care out of your own pocket?
• Here’s the painful one: What’s it worth to hire representatives to manage all this and more for you, have judges to watch over the whole system, and prisons to lock up the predators who exploit decent, hard-working taxpayers like yourself?
To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, that great American spirit and reformer, the more wealth and property we have to lose, the more we should be prepared to spend to protect our freedom, possessions and very lives. Was TR right or wrong?
That’s fairly abstract. Let’s be practical. Exactly how much are you willing to pony up? Write it down and send it to your representatives in Washington and Columbus. They don’t seem to be asking, so we’ll take the initiative. The only way for them to know what we can afford is to know what we’re willing to spend.
Contact John Gladden at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thatjohngladden.