Monday, October 20, 2008

A Dumb Question: Joe the Plumber

From a concerned reader:

"I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes 250..270 uh 280 thousand dollars a year, your new tax plan is going to tax me more, now isn't it?"

When I heard the now famous Joe quoted on my NPR pod cast asking that question, I let forth the same series of expletives I normally reserve for Bushisms. What a stupid question! Yes, if you are making two-hundred and fifty THOUSAND dollars, you should pay more taxes then someone like me who makes on the order of 25 thousand/year. Even at the proposed higher tax percentages, you still have a s**t load of money.

Call me a socialist - and yes, I will admit to having lived on a kibbutz - but I like having community and government programs. I like schools. I like police forces. I even like roads. And I want my central governing body to govern these systems and programs that are utilized by everyone in my community / country. Furthermore, as a logical thinking citizen, I want everyone to contribute to the financing of these programs. Because, let's face it, the small town volunteer-part time fire department that works ok on limited equipment in a small rural town population 400, isn't going to cut it in St. Louis city. Jews especially should recognize the importance of supporting community structure, because the concept of community is central to our religion. Not only do we have an additional obligation as Jews to tithe 1/10 of our income towards tikun olam (Literally fixing the world), but also think about the nature of the synagogue, the structure of our holidays, and the value placed on inherently communal aspects of society such as a school or the mikvah (ritual pool). Interestingly, the money that we set aside for tithing isn't even really ours to give, but we should think about it as if we were merely the one responsible for allocating it . So if you can agree that we need these services, and we as a community benefit from the existence of these services, then you must realize that someone has got to anti-up the cash.

So why should Joe, who probably doesn't have kids in school or need medicaid, have to give more to fund these services? I'd like to invoke the Marxian statement "each according to his ability," but I have a feeling you would jump on my ironically not red behind and stop reading. So let's take a Jewish example of undue burden. A synagogue needs to pay its bills, and high holiday tickets are a key source of funding. While $100 a seat is nothing for my parents, that kind of fee would be a serious burden for me. I'm sure many of you enjoyed your free seat at services a few weeks ago - or if you didn't go, at least cost wasn't the obstacle. The same applies to our larger, more secular community. Why should a family be forced to choose between health care and food? It's not just a percentage, but an impact factor.

Now you might be saying, "I get it - I pay my taxes. I just don't want to pay MORE taxes then I already am." Wake up and smell the poverty. Look around you, not in tower grove or the central west end, but a little further east. I'm not writing to argue about wasteful government spending, but - fact - there are people in need. And as a Jew - and as a person - I am obligated to do what I can to help them.

Sadly, taxes are just one example of our nation shunning civic duty. While sitting at a conference last Friday, I overheard the gentleman sitting behind me bragging about how he made himself enough of a nuisance to be excused from jury duty. I almost punched him. He was proud of his failure to provide his peer with the most fundamental component of our judiciary system. Now this is St. Louis city, so probably the person on trial shared little of this graduate student's socio-economic, racial, or cultural background. But, I'm sorry, since when do civic duties - jury, taxes, or otherwise, stop at those boundaries? I'll get off my soap box now, but I had to say something. Particularly for a young, Jewish blog, the posts were just getting too conservative.

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1 comment:

Sleep Now In The Fire said...

Currently the top 1% pay 37% of tax returns. The top 10% pay 78%. Right now, approximately $15 trillion is invested abroad in order to avoid domestic taxation. Imagine how much better our economy would be with that money invested at home – the jobs that money could create. It matters not how much money you have - if you're required to part with more of it, you spend less of what you have left over. Companies invest in additional labor to grow their business. Take more money away and they hire less people. It's a very simple process that gets no mention in the debate, yet historically it's how businesses have responded. These policies designed to help lower-income people end up hurting them more.

The idea that because someone can afford to pay more taxes they should pay more is, I'm sorry, insulting. I mentor a middle school kid in the South Grand neighborhood, and my goal is to help him realize that the world is a bigger and colorful place and that opportunity exists outside of poverty, so that when he grows up he can make his own life. I guarantee you that my efforts, and the other mentors of the program I do this through, make much more of an impact on the kids of their neighborhood than anything the government could do precisely because I'm there on my own free will, on my time, and I’m connecting on a personal level with nothing but myself invested, and I hold myself to a much higher standard than I know the government could ever produce. This, and I hope this isn’t insulting, is what many people find so hypocritical about the liberal movement. They have such a concern for mankind that the best they can muster up is to make other people “fix” things by forcing a redistribution of wealth rather than taking initiative to make a difference themselves. Meanwhile, the people being required to foot the bill give more money, and more personal time, to charity. There is everything right about wanting to help people, but you have to want to help them for the sake of helping, not retribution. When food and shelter and education matter the most, where it comes from is irrelevant, and if blaming other people becomes the focus when we all have time to give, then who are we really helping?