Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Taxes as Civic Tithe

No one likes paying taxes. Especially in a country like the U.S. which began with tax protests.  Of course, unlike the rightwing fringe “teabaggers” (Honestly,  don’t these people  know how to google contemporary slang terms? Since this is a family-friendly blog, I’ll let you discover for yourselves why Michelle might object to the signs saying, “Teabag Obama!” Really.  From the family values crowd, too.) the colonists were not protesting the very idea of taxes. They were protesting “taxation without representation.” i.e., having no elected say as colonists in Parliament’s decisions as to what to tax, how much,  and how those would  be spent.

Taxes are the price of civilization.  With taxes, we pay our police, firefighters, teachers, and other public servants.  If we want good roads, bridges that don’t fall down, levees that don’t break, an electric grid that works, we must pay taxes.  If we want our elderly cared for, we pay taxes. (Poverty in old age used to be a chronic problem. Since the advent of Social Security taxes and Medicare, poverty in old age is relatively rare in the U.S.  Children’s poverty, however, is a huge problem in the U.S.) If we want our veterans cared for, we pay taxes.  If we want good government, we pay taxes.

It is true that taxes can be high and oppressive.  The Bible has plenty of examples of such.  But, in the U.S., we have some of the lowest tax rates–and, because of that, some of the worst public services.  When anti-tax sentiments run wild in state and local legislatures, these governments must enact “hidden taxes” to get needed revenue: higher fines and court fees (and speeding quotas); higher rates for public parking; higher driver’s license fees, etc. 

I have been involved in tax protests–over the amount of tax money used for military purposes and for the right for Conscientious Objectors to have a peace tax fund that allows all of our taxes to be used for non-military purposes. (There is a bill for this in Congress that is introduced every year and never gets out of committee.) But the fringe element at today’s “tea parties” seem to be protesting “high taxes,” although these are the Bush tax rates that they have praised for 8 years–and next year most of their taxes will decrease while the taxes on the rich slightly increase.  There is no logic here.

Meanwhile, offshore tax havens for wealthy corporations cost the U.S. an estimated $100 billion per year which honest taxpayers must make up.  Wealthy people cheat on their taxes far more often than poor and working people.

You cannot get something for nothing. If we want safe toys, we need inspectors and regulations, paid for by taxes. If we want safe water and air and working conditions, it takes taxes. If we want a Federal Emergency Management Agency that WORKS after a disaster (as it did during the Clinton years, but not during the Bush years), then we must be willing to pay our taxes.  The current highest tax rate (upper 1%) is only 36% and will only rise to 39% next year.  During the Eisenhower era, when America had a strong economy and the largest middle class in our history, the top 1% tax rate was 90%.

I have a different name for the tea partiers:  freeloaders and parasites.

April 15, 2009 - Posted by | taxes


  1. It is always those who ask for the most who cry when they have to pay!

    To have a national government requires taxes. Roads, schools, etc. Those are all paid for by taxes. What would America be like if we didn’t have taxes? Well, we’ll not go there.

    But you’re right the issue that stirred up the colonists was one of representation not taxes. Last I knew, we had the right to vote. Indeed, suffrage is universal for all American citizens 18 and over. That’s even better than when the nation was born.

    Remember the President was originally elected by the electoral college, without any popular vote.

    Comment by Bob Cornwall | April 15, 2009

  2. Bob, we still need to abolish the electoral college. I’d appreciate it if you and other theo-bloggers would weigh in on my discussions of moral discernment:




    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 15, 2009

  3. You utterly misunderstand.

    I would like the opportunity to send to you the photos I took today at a tea party.

    And by the way, it’s a tea party. No one EVER called it tea-bagging except those who degrade and ridicule their fellow citizens. I never heard of that before and I refuse your surprising invitation to Google it. I take it as someone’s attempt to mock, insult and sexualize a tea party assembly in which the citizens speak.

    I brought my son so he is able to see a well-ordered, peaceful assembly. There were no insulting signs, everything was family friendly, it was more like a Fourth of July gathering with flags, singing of the national anthem, courtesy, witty and knowledgable signage, copies of the Constitution — a model of good citizenry.

    Contrary to your assertions, this was not about not paying taxes. Not at all. There was nothing against Obama. The primary speaker urged the crowd to follow a great president, JFK, to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” The crowd was a mixture of “Greatest Generation” (grandpa and grandma, with canes!) and young families with their children. People are concerned about their children’s future. Is that parasitic? There was great appreciation expressed for our elders who came out of the Depression, worked hard, built decent lives, provided for themselves, were generous to the less fortunate, and passed on a good legacy to their children. We were urged, as children of the Greatest Generation, not to waste that legacy by overspending or letting our elected representatives overspend in haste.

    If that is so snortworthy, if you would rather believe what is spun by mockers-in-advance, so be it. Many thanks for calling me a parasite and a freeloader.

    Comment by K Gray | April 15, 2009

  4. Well, K, the party you saw was different from the ones I saw, including the one in my town which had about 1,000 people. Signs included the verb “Tea-bag Obama,” (I think Michelle would object!) and “Tea-bag the liberals before they Tea-bag you!” (This liberal isn’t into that.) Reporting from around the country and my own encounters suggest to me that you are right that few realize the double-entendre. They are not being deliberately funny or sexually perverse. But the irony is there, anyway.

    I did see signs that compared Obama to Hitler and a T-shirt comparing him to Chairman Mao (at the same time?).

    There was no message discipline: Some seemed to protest taxes (even when I pointed out that these were the Bush tax rates and that most there would receive tax breaks next year, unless they make $250,000 per year or more.) Some were protesting spending, but they never protested the 8 years of spending under Bush or understood why one needs to spend in a recession to keep it from becoming a Depression.
    Some were Ron Paul libertarians, others wanted to cut taxes in order to support the troops (with what money?).

    And my derision is not for you, K, but for those who have played you like a pied piper. These protests were not grassroots efforts: They were organized by big corporations and organizations that made billions while the rest got poorer. Conservatives are manipulated by corporate crooks and sheisters.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 16, 2009

  5. […] perhaps hypocrisy isn’t the right word here … but “I’ve participated in such protests before” but your reasons […]

    Pingback by Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Thursday Highlights | April 16, 2009

  6. Well I will “render unto Caesar”, but I don’t like it most of the time. I have no control on where my tax money may go and there is the rub.

    Comment by Paul | April 16, 2009

  7. Some people are wondering if Obama is promoting an economic fascism. Food for thought.

    Comment by Paul | April 16, 2009

  8. Yes, you do. You vote for representatives (taxation WITH representation) and then you write them, testify before them (the constitution calls this petitioning), phone them, email them, etc. When you band together with others, you can exercise influence over where the money is spent. An admitted problem is that lobbyists for corporations have too much voice and ordinary citizens have too little–but it’s not true that we have no voice.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 16, 2009

  9. Could they DEFINE “economic fascism?” I mean, seriously, that’s insane. Obama is promoting a more conservative version of the New Deal (updated for the 21st C)–which saved us from the Great Depression. They think Obama is promoting “economic fascism” by cutting the tax rate for most people and raising the tax rate for the top 1% from 36% to 39%. Let’s see what Presidents raised the top tax rate HIGHER than 39%? Truman and Eisenhower (90% on top 1%); JFK and LBJ (80%); Richard Nixon (75%–and Nixon froze wages in an attempt to stop stagflation); Carter (60%), and even Reagan (39.8%–then raised to 42%). “Economic fascism?” Do these people have dictionaries or read any political histories?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 16, 2009

  10. You’re right, Michael. Fascism has a definition. It’s in the dictionary and people can look it up. It’s just plain nuttiness to call Obama’s policies (agree with them or not) “fascist” in any sense of the word.

    And you’re right about the protests here in Louisville and others that I’ve seen photos of: There were most certainly anti-Obama posters and rhetoric and the Nazi/fascist type of goofball signs.

    I’d have to question, though, that there were 1000 people at Louisville’s rally. Looked much lower than that to me. Where’d you get that number?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 16, 2009

  11. Where’d I get the number at the Louisville rally? From MSNBC coverage–although it looked smaller to me, too.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 16, 2009

  12. How do you propose to collect taxes given your pacifism. What if someone just says you ain’t gonna get my money unless your willing to take it from me by force?

    Comment by Jack | April 16, 2009

  13. Mutual agreement? A police force?

    Do you think that violence is the only answer?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 16, 2009

  14. You have focused on taxation; however, three other issues were prominent in the tea party assemblies:

    1. Spending. Not everyone is as Keynsian as Congress.
    2. Big government control, expanded under Bush and increasing even more under Obama. Constitutional issues.
    3. Congressional reactionaries – huge bills passed in haste to rescue big businesses, with the consequence falling on future generations.

    So you are right, there were several messages (which must frustrate the big money pied piper who duped you and I into attending) and a real lack of message discipline. I hand-lettered my own sign, which said “Read the Bill.” I’m not sure I saw any two signs alike.

    But back to taxes. The taxation part of this is, people know who WILL pay for the deficit spending. Current taxes are not the issue; we are still in the Bush tax cut period. It’s the coming increases. Heck I’ll bet someone was there protesting the increased cost of their cigarettes, although I saw no signage on that.

    Taxpayers — people who keep up with the economic news — know that there are tax increases in their futures. It may not be this year, but the spending must be paid for. Most people are like Paul: they will render unto Caesar, will not like it much, and will have little say over the spending.

    Which is why some signs said “Third Party Now!” and “Republican and Democrat: Dumb and Dumber” and “Term Limits Now.”

    If Big Money paid for that, they are not getting their money’s worth. 🙂

    By the way, you called me a dupe and called Paul’s concern insane. That’s OK. I’m still following your first rule of commenting.

    Comment by K Gray | April 16, 2009

  15. BTW, did you see anyone fitting your original description of non-tax-paying parasites and freeloaders? At the event I attended, I didn’t see any flat-out “no tax” signage. And there was nothing to freeload, not even hot dogs, water bottles or decals. I’m surprised no capitalist saw the opportunity in hundreds of folks gathered on the town square….

    Comment by K Gray | April 16, 2009

  16. And no buses or free rides! I didn’t even get an email. This astroturfing is not living up to its reputation.

    I exceeded my comment limit, sorry about that!

    Comment by K Gray | April 16, 2009

  17. Why is it that some Liberals tend to be intolerant whenever someone doesn’t follow the party line? That sounds like fascism to me.

    Comment by Paul | April 16, 2009

  18. What is sad is that public discourse is cheapened and sexualized. Grandmothers and toddlers are called “teabaggers” by the news, by Christian bloggers, by MSNBC, and we are urged to Google it if we don’t understand!

    Sddenly it is suspicious to get people engaged — peacefully! — in democracy. It used to be patriotic.

    And no one can mention Obama or they make the news. CNN asks a protester what group she’s with, the women says “None! I’m a suburban MOM!” and the CNN reporter looks at her with rank disbelief and continues to interrogate her about how she got to the protest.

    This is truly, truly sad. And I’m sad at the complete disdain you show at this blog for people like me, a stay at home mom who has come to this blog specifically to read about opinions and beliefs different from my own.

    It is intolerant here.

    There is name calling, ridicule and verbal VIOLENCE.

    My brother MWW, I wish you well. I tried.

    Comment by K Gray | April 17, 2009

  19. K Gray sometimes people forget to practice the Christian virtues-Christians are not exempt from doing so either. There does seem to be some mean-spiritedness here among a few commentators, but it happens on a lot of blogs. Tolerance should not only be preached but practiced by Liberals and Conservatives.!

    Comment by Paul | April 17, 2009

  20. Paul said:

    Why is it that some Liberals tend to be intolerant whenever someone doesn’t follow the party line? That sounds like fascism to me.

    Then you need to buy a dictionary.

    But yes, liberals and conservatives and all others can stand to be more tolerant in how we listen to one another, no argument there (in my experience, it is the conservatives who tend to be the most verbally abusive, but then, that’s just my experience). But having an opinion and expressing it is not fascism, just to be clear.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 17, 2009

  21. K, I didn’t sexualize anything. It was Fox News which kept talking about “tea bagging” and I’m not the one with the signs that said “T-bag the White House” or “Tea bag the liberals before they Tea bag you.” I said from the the beginning that I doubted that the people with these signs knew the slang term that would give the alternative metaphor. I found it ironic. Yes, I urged people look it up rather than spell it out for them. I thought such lack of awareness showed a basic “out of touchness.”

    I understand your frustration with being thought on the fringe. Believe me. I remember how frustrating and lonely it felt to oppose starting a war with Afghanistan, never mind Iraq. (At least Afghanistan housed those who attacked us.) I remember wondering if my country had gone crazy or been stolen from me. I know that’s how many conservatives feel now. I remember feeling the same way.

    And you talk about being dismissed by journalists? These tea parties were promoted for weeks by Fox News. In February 2003, we who opposed the planned invasion of Iraq put millions in the streets across the nation. Dan Trabue and I traveled to NYC where we were part of 1 million people protesting in that town itself. We were joined by nearly 20 million people worldwide. The reaction of the press was surely many in depth interviews for days, right? Wrong. A 30 second blurb if we were lucky. President Bush was asked about us and dismissed these millions of democratic voices in the streets as a “focus group,” and said he never listened to such. (Which is true. He listened to Rove and Cheney, but never the people.)

    And you think you were called names? In our 20 years of marriage, only once has my wife, Kate, ever asked me to remove a bumpersticker from our car. In the wake of 9/11, I worried about possible violence even to Muslim Americans who had nothing to do with terrorism. (Incidentally, though I had not heard of blogging, then–and would have wondered if it was a new sex slang–I did participate in email lists. And there I repeatedly gave George W. Bush credit for correcting his base, and even his administration, by saying we weren’t at war with Islam, calling Islam a religion of peace that had been hijacked by extremists, and urging Americans not to be violent with other Americans.) So, I put a bumpersticker on my car that said, “War is not the answer and Islam is not the enemy.” Driving it through a McDonald’s drive-thru, with my then-small daughter in the back seat, my wife was assaulted by a man who foamed at the mouth about that bumpersticker. She had to have the McD’s people phone the police and she drove around and around before returning home so she wouldn’t be followed. I scraped off the bumpersticker that night.

    So, believe me, K, I get it that you are frustrated at being considered a part of a fringe movement that is not understood. But that is reality. Our president has a 68% approval rating. The majority of the people blame the banks and the previous administration for the economy (rightly) and are willing, for now, to try Obama’s version of Depression-era Keynesian economics as a way out. For the first time in decades, more Americans say that they pay “just about right” amount of taxes or “too little” than say they are over taxed. And 59% are willing to pay more taxes for universal healthcare, better schools, better public transportation, and greener energy. That’s a large change in just 4 years.

    You and all the others at these tea parties have every right to protest. That’s the American way. But you are part of a fringe. The events were small–maybe 100,000 people TOTAL from coast to coast. And there WERE tons of racist and even treasonous signs at many of these events–even if you didn’t see any at yours.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 17, 2009

  22. Michael, I thought you might be interested in reading this article by Thom Hartmann.

    He states that “The real Boston Tea Party was a protest against huge corporate tax cuts for the British East India Company, the largest trans-national corporation then in existence. This corporate tax cut threatened to decimate small Colonial businesses by helping the BEIC pull a Wal-Mart against small entrepreneurial tea shops, and individuals began a revolt that kicked-off a series of events that ended in the creation of The United States of America. They covered their faces, massed in the streets, and destroyed the property of a giant global corporation. Declaring an end to global trade run by the East India Company that was destroying local economies, this small, masked minority started a revolution with an act of rebellion later called the Boston Tea Party.”

    According to Hartmann, who read a first person account of the event (“Retrospect of the Boston Tea Party with a Memoir of George R.T. Hewes, a Survivor of the Little Band of Patriots Who Drowned the Tea in Boston Harbor in 1773,”), it wasn’t about taxation without representation at all.

    Comment by Marty | April 17, 2009

  23. Plus I have found myself caught up in the humor of “teabagging”. K Gray has helped me to see the error of my ways of which I now repent.

    Comment by Marty | April 17, 2009

  24. My point was, you call people (including commenters) names – morons, dupes, idiots, etc.

    Marty, you get it. Enjoy the freedom.

    Fringe – just travelers looking for a better country. 🙂

    Comment by K Gray | April 18, 2009

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