I Like Paying Taxes

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I actually like paying my taxes every year. It’s true.

In 2011, I earned about $70,000, and after accounting for the tax-free money I put away in my retirement account, I paid a total of $13,700 in federal, state and city taxes, or about 23 percent of my earnings. I am okay with this figure. I feel good about this figure. People ask me to imagine all the things I could do with the money I’m paying to our government. “You could use it to pay off your student loans,” they say, or “that’s like a down payment on a house!”

I realize this. I want those things. I want the American Dream of being debt-free and buying a split-level in the suburbs, or Victorian in the country, or a pre-war apartment in the city with room enough for the kids, the one-eyed cat, and the three-legged dog. Yes, I want that split-level, or Victorian, or pre-war apartment paid off when I am an old person, and I want to be able to travel the world, eat rich food, and do as many selfish, indulgent things as I please. 

Here are other things I want: I want our broken health care system to be fixed. I want funding for women’s reproductive health care. I want benefits for veterans, care for the elderly and access to education to those who can’t afford it. I want the same justice system that awarded my father his disability payments after his employer refused to provide them to him after he suffered a serious injury at work to be able to continue to provide justice for other people who seek it. I want to wake up every morning before the sun rises and go running in the park, and walk home after the sun has set without worrying about feeling safe in my community. After an entire day of doing all the selfish things I can afford, I want to go to bed, close my eyes, and sleep soundly because I know that while I dream my selfish dreams, there are brave men and women who are awake whose job it is to keep me out of harm’s way. I want all of these things and so much more. I want these things for me, I want these things for you, and although $13,700 is far from enough to make all these things happen, it’s a fair price to pay to keep my community safe and to help my community thrive. And I do feel safe, and it’s thanks to your taxes too.

This is the social contract, isn’t it? We’ve all agreed to not kill each other, and to protect one another from harm. I love this country that we live in, and I want all of us to prosper. I think that these are goals that we all share, and I am happy to pay my fair share help us get to a place where everyone in my community is safe and cared for.

Real talk: There are people in this country who do not feel safe in their communities. There are people who feel like they are not being protected, who do not sleep soundly at night because they are worrying about food and shelter and unaffordable health care and an ineffective education system that can’t help them rise out of the broken communities they survive in every day. These people will tell me that I am idealistic and foolish. They will tell me that the social contract is broken, that governments misappropriate and misuse taxpayer money, or that they’ve worked hard for their money and that they deserve to keep as much as that money as possible because they can do more good with their money than our government can. I will not deny these people their right to have misgivings about paying taxes, because being able to repudiate a system that fails you is one of the few privileges we have in this country. I am not here to tell you why you should pay your taxes, I am only telling you why I am happy to pay mine.

I am not here to argue about tax reform, or how the wealthy aren’t paying enough taxes. Those debates are happening on other websites among more knowledgeable people who can speak about delicate tax issues with far more eloquence than I can. I am here to say that although the system has not been perfect, it has worked for me, so I am happy to keep up my end of the bargain by paying my taxes. If the system ever fails me, believe me, I will march, occupy, hold hands, petition, and demand our leaders to uphold their end of the bargain of keeping my community thriving.

There are places out there that are so tax-averse, that are so untrusting of their local governments, that they’ve splintered the collective well-being of their communities. In early 2010, the city of Colorado Springs—like so many other cities across the country—found itself facing a large budget deficit after the recession caused sales tax revenue to take a dive. Voters rejected a proposed property tax increase that would help close the budget gap, and as a result, the city ended up slashing basic services to fix the budget. Garbage cans were removed from parks, public restrooms were closed, busses stopped running on evenings and weekends, and then there were the lights—more than a third of streetlights in Colorado Springs went dark. Residents who wanted streetlights in their neighborhood turned back on could take part in a “streetlight adoption program” and pay a fee for a year of service. Some residents gladly paid.

“A gentleman came up to me and actually thanked me for the adopt a streetlight program,” Colorado Springs City Councilperson Jan Martin explained to a reporter on This American Life. “He had just written a check to the city for $300 to turn the streetlights back on in his neighborhood. And I did remind him that for $200—if he had supported the tax initiative—that we could have not only streetlights but parks and firemen and swimming pools and community centers. That by combining our resources, we as a community can accomplish more than as individuals. And he said he would never support a tax increase. It’s because of a total lack in trust in government—I’ll take care of mine, you go take care of yours because we don’t trust the government to do it for us.” The program has now been eliminated “due to council direction,” and residential streetlights are being reactivated.

I am happy to pay my taxes because I want us all to have the streetlights, and parks, and firemen, and swimming pools and community centers.

I am not naive. I know that the money I pay is not simply going to keep my community lit, housed, fed, educated and healthy. The money I pay has also helped pay for bullets and bombs that have killed innocent people in wars I have not believed in. It is funding the pensions of Members of Congress who don’t believe that we need to take action to preserve our environment for future generations, who want to eliminate funding for reproductive health programs, and prevent gay marriage from becoming legal. It is going into the pockets of executives at billion dollar companies that not only don’t pay taxes, but claim multi-billion dollars worth of tax benefits through “fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting.”

I wish I could see exactly how my tax dollars are being used, but that’s not how our system works (could you imagine having to sort and read up on thousands of services every year and decide where you want every one of your tax dollars to go? Nightmare scenario). The community that I am investing in is also made up of people who believe in the righteousness of our wars, or eliminating certain public programs, or that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. I accept this because when I say I want all of us to be taken care of, I really do mean all of us. United, we stand, right? We all deserve the capacity to thrive. Public transportation got my parents to work, low-interest federal student loans put me through college, and streetlights have always lit my way home. Yes, I have thrived in this country, so yes, I am happy to pay my taxes.

 

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18 Comments / Post A Comment

highjump (#39)

Today my income tax check to my “state” (money I was not expecting to pay and had not budgeted for) cleared my account, leaving me with a precipitously low three-figure amount of money. I was feeling bitter about it, but now I am feeling less bitter because I too love parks and streetlights and the social contract.

ru_ri (#217)

Thank you for writing this, Mike Dang. I don’t make as much (and thus don’t pay as much in taxes) as you do, but I feel the same way about paying them. It is a social contract that we have, for a long time, benefited from greatly.

I really like this site–the difference in perspectives between you and Logan is nice, and but you’re not at all polarized. I feel like I relate to both your experiences. Also, the posts are really thought-provoking. Every time I visit I enjoy what I read. Thanks to you both!

Mike Dang (#2)

@ru_ri This is very sweet. Thank you.

bibliostitute (#285)

Mike Dang! Whenever I read something you write I am 100% at peace. And after a really anxious week of not being able to explain to my new roommates why I am willing to pay my taxes, and why internships shouldn’t be free because they aren’t apprenticeships, and why healthcare needs government subsidies and and and… It is so good to read this.

I love the billfold. I am probably going to start calling it’s content the billgold in my head.

bibliostitute (#285)

@bibliostitute aaaand because i no longer live in the english speaking world, that it’s should be an “its”. billgold is still rolling.

Very good post! One thing you do kind of gloss over (because it would be boring) is that the biggest single chunk of your tax dollars, probably about $5,000, goes into your own retirement in the form of Social Security. While the money isn’t stuffed away in an account marked “FOR MIKE DANG” it is meant to be there when you get old, and will supplement whatever you are saving on your own. The second largest chunk goes into what you might consider supplementary medical insurance (Medicare/Medicaid) for when you get old and/or lose your job. This is functionally identical to any group insurance plan, except that it is mandatory and its conditions of coverage are fairly limited (i.e. you must be old or very, very sick and very, very poor).

deepomega (#22)

@stuffisthings The sad thing, of course, is that there’s no way anyone Mike’s age (or mine) will have Social Security checks in any way similar to the system now in place.

barnhouse (#202)

@deepomega I don’t agree with you there. I intend to fight like the devil so that you will, and I believe enough of us want to win that fight that we will eventually win it.

automaticdoor (#145)

*high five* Yessss. This is how I feel too. Or at least, will feel, when I have to pay taxes. I hope.

pony624 (#294)

I feel the same way! But you said it much better than I could have. Thanks, Mike.

Trilby (#191)

Here’s where all that good feeling starts to sour– you do better the next year and the few breaks you get evaporate, and you realize the governments, Fed. State, and City, have gobbled up your progress. Yes, it is nice to pay your fair share, but it is also nice to feel like you’re getting somewhere and that your hard work can actually pay off some day with bigger paychecks.

Personal disclosure: I made the most I ever made this year by far and paid a whopping 32% to the taxmen. Not so happy about that. I’d be more than ok with 13%.

sony_b (#225)

I make more, and pay more, and I agree with you a hundred percent. I would happily pay more for a true social safety net – just because I’m flush now doesn’t mean I will be forever.

Also, even though I’m perfectly healthy I’ve got a medical history that makes me completely uninsurable, at any price outside of work. I already spend an obscene amount of my paycheck to keep my boyfriend and I on on my corporate plan (and am absurdly grateful that they cover him without us being married).

I would be THRILLED to turn that money over to the government to get single payer – if I didn’t have to worry about health insurance, I’d be self employed and probably making/paying more, and employing at least one other person.

Megano! (#124)

I played this fun game online last week to balance the Canadian budget, and basically if you taxed the rich more, you would have a surplus.
Also I hope to make 70 grand doing what you do Mike Dang!
P.S. my offer of marriage still stands, lol

Mike Dang (#2)

@Megan Patterson@facebook Well, I am certainly not earning that now! I quit that job with all the nice benefits to boostrap this website, but it has been very fun so far, and I’m glad to have you nice readers and commenters here. Seriously, you guys are the best.

cmcm (#267)

Thank you for this article. I moved to England almost five years ago and sometimes American friends back home say things like “blahblabhlabhal but taxes are so high!” And I also am happy to pay these taxes – even though I’m not entitled to many benefits like unemployment or tax credits or the right to vote. I’m lucky to live in a country where healthcare is free and where social and community services are valued.

I agree with this so hard. And I immigrated to Canada in 2010 and I have to file/pay taxes in both countries and I AM HAPPY TO DO SO.

whimseywisp (#220)

Thank you! I AGREE TOOOOO :D :D :D.

Kablamo (#427)

Oh, my gosh- thank you for this. I made a typo when I filled out my w3 and now I owe money instead of getting my expected refund. But reading this reminds me how lucky we are to still have some of the social programs left that people in the past worked so hard to give us.

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