Montana Viewpoint: Who has gained from anti-tax talk?

It is the American tradition at this time of year to gripe and moan about paying taxes.

Indeed, we have been well indoctrinated. The libertarian right, led by the wealthy and the corporate giants, have for years been telling us that our taxes are too high, that we are being taxed to death, and that taxes stifle the economy.


Jim Elliott

We Americans have learned that lesson well, heeded the warning and elected anti-tax Republicans and timid Democratic me too-ers to get the job done and lower those nefarious taxes.

And we have reaped the harvest of our own success: interstate highways with crumbling pavement, an increasing number of unsafe bridges, understaffed law enforcement agencies, as well as social infrastructure falling into disrepair. Then we lay the blame for all this squarely on the shoulders of those truly responsible—someone else.

So the anti-tax folks have done their job and done it well. Their leaders have profited from lower taxes and their followers have seen their share of taxes rise. The beauty of all this is not that it works, but that it works so well that we lambs being led to slaughter blame our fate on the wolves of government, not on the guy with the sledgehammer and the knife.

There was once a book titled “Let’s You and Him Fight” which talked about the basics of getting others to fight your battles for you. So it is with taxes, those who have the greatest ability to pay taxes, and thus the greatest desire to avoid paying them, have turned to the unsuspecting masses to fight their wars for them no matter that it’s to the majority’s detriment.

For corporations, avoiding taxes is like a parlor game whereby they can increase the bottom line and have fun doing it. In 1948, corporate income tax collections were roughly half much as individual income tax collections. In 2008, corporate income tax collections dropped to one quarter of individual income tax collections.

Look, you have to spend money to make money, in government as well as business. Both need a solid, dependable infrastructure, both need a trustworthy and loyal workforce, and both get these by investing—which is another way of saying “spending money”—in them.

This infrastructure provides businesses with the basic tools to do what they do—make money—and it gives governments the tools to do what they do—create an environment where business can flourish, an environment with an educated workforce, dependable means of transportation and communication and healthy and safe communities.

It is as foolish to argue that government spending does not benefit business as it is to argue that businesses do not benefit the nation; they go hand in hand.

Americans rail against deficit spending, well and good, but we either have to be prepared to settle for less in the way of defense, healthcare and education, to name the big three budgetary items, or be prepared to pony up enough money to fund them the way we want them funded.

Ask yourself two questions: first, what government programs should have funding cut, and second, what government programs that you depend on should have funding cut. I bet they’re not the same.

Jim Elliott is a former chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and a former state senator from Trout Creek. 

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