Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tax Me - I'm Yours!

Dear Readers:

Because this is a blog about the commons, it doesn’t make sense for me to be the only writer so from time to time I am going to ask friends and colleagues to post something here. The following post is from a friend in Toronto, Rob Howarth. Rob wrote in response to his own government’s unwillingness to raise taxes, a familiar and depressing story for all of us in the USA. Rob is a “commoner” and our bond was forged a couple of years ago when he created a website called “I love taxes.”

People seem to have a new-found fervour for collective solutions to collective woes. They want their governments to step in and take the heat off a massive market meltdown. Stimulus now! Spend more public money, the sooner the better! The curious thing is that no one seems willing to pay for this spree. Everyone hates paying taxes, and seems to imagine they can pay less and less of them and still have public spending grow. A combination of massive spending increases and significant tax cuts are central to both the Canadian and U.S. economic stimulus packages. Surely this will go down as the biggest attempt at a free lunch ever conjured up (except perhaps the brilliance of building our societies on non-renewable fossil fuel foundations).

I have noticed that conservative watchers of these ballooning deficits are warning that deficit spending today simply means deferring our taxes ‘till tomorrow. We are setting ourselves up for massive tax increases down the road. They say this as if it is a bad thing. I say, bring ‘em on! The sooner the better.

I have wanted to pay more taxes for some time now, but the conservative winds of the last twenty years have thwarted my desires. Tax cut aficionados continue even now to tell us that money in people’s pockets is, in every instance, preferable to paying taxes. It is always preferable, but unfortunately just for solving individual needs. Once a group of individuals decide they need to do something together, like build a hospital, or school, or affordable housing, or collect the garbage – they will need to invent systems to do so. And also a way to pay for it fairly. I think we refer to these systems today as government and taxes. They are not perfect systems, and they are in constant need of reform and vigilance so that they reflect people’s collective desires, and not just the will of the powerful. But the alternative of providing all of these collective good via the private market is not looking like such a great idea these days.

So I still say, what’s so funny about peace, love and a progressive tax system? If we had been paying more taxes all along much pain could be avoided today. We might even have chosen to strengthen our healthcare, green our energy sources, invest in community infrastructure, roads, cultural, educational and other public assets on an ongoing basis – not just when the banks have to get out of the kitchen.

Instead of a free lunch, let’s follow John Lennon’s advice and “free our minds instead”. I’m starting with jettisoning the fiction that we can all take care of each other, and be taken care of, without contributing much along the way. And I’m printing up buttons that say: Tax me – I’m Yours!

Rob Howarth is the part-time coordinator of an association of thirty nonprofit agencies located in neighbourhoods across Toronto, called (fittingly enough) the Toronto Neighbourhood Centres. This involves working on shared issues of concern related to community change (e.g. the racialization and spacialization of poverty in our city), and the role of local organizations that strive to support communities through service-provision and community-building work. He started at university training as an architect, which was fun, but realized he did not warm to the professionalization of that realm. He reflects that he is often involved in creating an "architecture of dissent". He lives in Toronto.

No comments: