Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Taxes: totally like slavery. And genocide.
You've probably already seen this ad. No doubt it's making the rounds online right now. I saw it on the news last night. Obviously it's blatantly ridiculous and hurtful and wrongheaded and dilutes the seriousness of big issues like actual real-world slavery and genocide.
But it's also a great example of a popular misconception bandied about by the tea partiers and their ilk. According to their version of history, the founding fathers broke with England and established a new nation because they didn't want to pay taxes. Period. They just did not want to pay one penny in taxes. And so now when our government taxes us it's a terrible injustice akin to slavery and genocide.
So first of all, to set the record straight, the founding fathers were opposed to taxation without representation. See how that's all one package? It's not taxation. period. It's taxation without representation. In other words, you give us representatives who will reliably bring our concerns and wishes into the political decision-making process, and we're cool with the taxes. No voice in the political arena? Then no taxes. See, the founding fathers thought the two should be tied together. That's actually how it worked. For white property-owning males, that is.
I think all Americans would pretty much agree to that: taxation without representation sucks. It's rather straight-forward. Which is why it's strange that most people don't realize that for more than 5 million people in the U.S., taxation without representation is exactly the condition they are currently living under, and they will probably remain in this condition for the rest of their lives. Because they have felony convictions. Many of them have done their time and "paid their debt to society." They're "rehabilitated." Right? Except that they'll never be a full citizen again, because they'll never have a political voice again. And in a democracy, having a political voice in the form of a vote is a constitutive part of what it means to be a citizen. And paying taxes is the flip side of voting. It's the old reciprocal privileges and responsibilities that my parents used to yammer on about. Or if you're into those Existentialist types, freedom always comes with terrible responsibility, and abdicating your responsibility amounts to abdicating your freedom, and all that.
But if you're a felon in the US, you fall through the giant loophole. You get to keep the responsibility - the paying taxes bit - without the reciprocal privilege. And this, my friends, is in fact anti-American. It does defy one of the most fundamental tenets of our democracy. It also serves to maintain the status quo - in terms of both race and class - by disproportionately excluding the groups who were most vulnerable to begin with and have thus landed in a bad position with the criminal justice system. But does anyone (least of all the libertarians and tea partiers) give a shit about that? Doesn't seem like it to me. I'm not hearing any kind of public outcry. Correct me if I'm wrong...