Who am I? Sounds like something Descartes might have asked – but I am not nearly so complex a creature as Descartes. There are a few things that are certain. I know I am a father and a grandfather. But those are mere biological truths (I defer here to Descartes). But the ideal of world politics, of a world community, of being an active participant in my world – leaves me a bit confused. I am just trying to figure out if I am liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. It seems to me that the question is most often defined in terms of economics – and sometimes in terms of culture.
Am I a capitalist? Well, if a person comes up with a good idea, a product that others want, they have a right to sell it and make a profit – We might think of Henry Ford or Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. It seems they were successful capitalists. But there are some problems. What about Andrew Carnegie – the perpetrator of major labor abuse. Or how about J. P. Morgan, or the owners of the coal mines in 1900? Perhaps my philosophy is closer to socialist or communist or something – because it seems reasonable that the workers had a right to safe working conditions.
What about taxes? Everyone but Ron Paul believes taxes are necessary. It seems reasonable that people should all contribute to the community pot – and that all should benefit from community support. All people have a right to things like police and fire protection, and good roads and sewage treatment. But here I go, it seems reasonable that communities would take care of their neighbor, making sure that everyone has food and shelter and access to good health care. That only seems neighborly to me.
Tariffs are convenient for politicians – tax products coming in to and going out of our country – businesses add the tax to the final retail cost and anyone who buys the product pays the tax. But fewer people can afford the product because the price is artificially inflated – everyone loses, the manufacturer who wants to sell his product at a reasonable price and the consumer who has to pay in the end. The fairness exists on two fronts. Only people who use the product pay the tax, and the manufacturer is protected from foreign malfeasance. Does this notion make me a liberal or a conservative?
What might be more fair? Income taxes have been around in the United States for less than 100 years. What is fair – all people pay the same amount, or all people pay the same percent of their income? But this ‘income tax’ has been tweaked over the years, sometimes in the interest of fairness and sometimes in the interest of protecting a particular class of people. The problem is that we cannot agree on what is fair. If a person only makes enough money to pay for food and shelter for his family – should we excuse him from the tax? Is it fair that a person who successfully makes and markets a product, creating jobs for others, should pay a larger amount for the same police and fire protection?
Are these the only choices? Some municipalities have experimented with Earnings Taxes. Only money that is earned through labor (payroll checks) is taxed at a flat percentage rate. It seems to this writer that the rich guy who makes most of his money on investments gets a better deal. And how about sales taxes? Sales taxes are inherently regressive. Poor people spend all of their money – so they pay the sales tax on all of their income.
But we all agreed that the community needs money. We all agreed that we should have a group of people, elected by us as representatives, to manage the process of providing community support functions.
And what about culture? It seems that culture and finance are joined at the hip, Siamese twins with different personalities and different values. One might think these twins were raised in different homes. I want to help my neighbors, but geez, they can’t afford the children they have and they keep having more. Where does my responsibility as a neighbor end? What am I going to do, let the children starve? It is not their fault their parents are irresponsible.
What if the poor people come knocking and report they are pregnant again and cannot afford another child – and they want me to help pay for an abortion? From a strictly financial point of view, the abortion will cost less. That sounded crass even as I typed it. But this scenario points out that not all decisions are based strictly on finance.
And what if my nephew Joe and his boyfriend want to get married? What do I care, they want the same financial benefits as heterosexual couples, so what? It is no skin of my (never mind).
So the question arises of who I am as a community participant because of the current crisis of economics our country is facing. The elected representatives are trying to work out an economic stimulus package. Everything mentioned in this post, and more, are on the table. Who gets a tax break? Who gets community sponsored benefits? Who pays? Who does not pay? The Republicans and Democrats have drawn lines in the sand. It feels to me as if I am standing on the line.
I don’t want to enable others to be irresponsible by bailing them out of their troubles. Here is the problem. There are so many folks in dire trouble that they will not be able to contribute to the community pot. That means that I will either have to pay more or lose some service. If I help my neighbor in the short term, perhaps he can keep paying his ‘tax’ in the long term.
Maybe there is a way we can all win. And I won’t have to worry about who I am.