The Public Good

I read this column a few days ago by Robert Reich on the Huffington Post. As I read, my reaction was “this. This. This this this this this. Yes.”

I knew I had to write about it. At the time, I couldn’t do it without copying and pasting the entire piece. Let’s see how I do today, shall we?

Take this quote:

What defines a society is a set of mutual benefits and duties embodied most visibly in public institutions — public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public hospitals, public parks, public museums, public recreation, public universities, and so on.

Public institutions are supported by all taxpayers, and are available to all.

This is my America. This is what I believe society, at its most basic and visible level, should be. This is why I don’t mind paying taxes, even though my eyes pop a wee bit every time I take the time to glace at more than my take-home income when I look at my paycheck stub. The way I see it, that is the price that I pay for living in this society. I have benefited from each and every single part of that list. I’ve attended public schools. I’ve been hospitalized in my city’s public hospitals. I made good use of the public transportation system as a teenager, and probably will again in the future. I played in the parks as a child, adolescent, teenager, and continue to enjoy them as an adult. (You cannot convince me that there is a better park system than the one here in Louisville. Even if I get lost in Cherokee Park, without fail, every time.) I have lived in the public libraries. I attended a public university. I have taken advantage of the museums and the recreation available in my fine state quite often, and am the better for it.

All of these things have kept me alive, kept me sane, kept me fulfilled and learning, and have in a very big way, shaped me into the person I am today. It would be ungrateful of me to not pay society back for everything that it has given me–and it would be irresponsible of me to do anything less but to “pay it forward” so that those who come after me may take full advantage of them as well.

If I hadn’t made use of these things? It is still my responsibility, as a member of society, to support these institutions, including defending them from disintegration and dismantlement. Even if these things hadn’t personally, directly benefited me, they are valuable and vital parts of our society. The public hospitals have saved people’s lives. The parks have provided joy, delight, enjoyment, peace, and exercise to millions. The schools teach the community’s children, introduce them to a world bigger than they imagined, spark their imagination, and enable them to become informed, engaged, enlightened, and productive members that contribute to our society. The universities open up the world even more, and provide us with new knowledge, and give its’ students new experiences and knowledge that will stay with them forever. The libraries and museums do the same–provide knowledge, expand imaginations, as well as to allow people to connect with history and other people in ways that no other institution could. And public transportation allows people a cheap, accessible, reliable means of getting to all of these places and more. Even if these things hadn’t directly benefited me, the ways that they enrich the lives of everyone living within that society does benefit me. It also benefits society, which, in turn, also benefits me.

All of these things are for the public good–and that is why the public must support them, financially and otherwise.

Much of what’s called “public” is increasingly a private good paid for by users — ever-higher tolls on public highways and public bridges, higher tuitions at so-called public universities, higher admission fees at public parks and public museums.

These higher direct costs are making these public goods accessible to fewer and fewer members of society. This negatively affects the whole–not just those who can no longer afford to access these things. I’d add another to this list–the rising prices of bus tickets and passes, and the corresponding reduction of service.

The great expansion of public institutions in America began in the early years of 20th century when progressive reformers championed the idea that we all benefit from public goods. Excellent schools, roads, parks, playgrounds, and transit systems would knit the new industrial society together, create better citizens, and generate widespread prosperity. Education, for example, was less a personal investment than a public good — improving the entire community and ultimately the nation.

We idealize the individual–but some things cannot be accomplished by an individual. Some things cannot be provided for by an individual. There are times when a community must band together, whether that be to protect, provide, or to enrich each member of the community. These things? Are it, and more. For the public good.

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Taxes: I Still Don’t Mind Paying Them

Last year, I wrote this post, explaining why I don’t mind paying taxes. A year later, I’m employed full-time, thereby paying taxes full-time. My stance hasn’t changed. Taxes are the price I pay to participate in an advanced society. I may not agree with every way taxes are used, but looking at the big picture, we are better off as a society.

A year later, I’m still grateful for federal student loans–I wouldn’t have been able to attend university without them. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met, befriended, and loved the many people I met during my time at WKU. I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to study abroad and see a good chunk of Central Europe. And of course, I wouldn’t have learned everything that I did.

A year later, I’m still grateful for police, fire, and especially EMS–my mother might not be alive if these services didn’t exist–and I would be very lost indeed without Momma Beemer. I’d give more than the paltry amount I pay in taxes for my mother’s life. This reason alone makes paying taxes more than worth it. But there’s much more.

Taxes pay the salaries for many, many of my dear friends who serve in the Armed Services–and I’m more than glad that every one of them is employed doing something that they love–flying, missile maintenance, infantry, and more. Not to mention, I wouldn’t be employed without the federal contracts that the government has with my employers.  Nor would my sister.

Civil Air Patrol, an amazing organization in which I was an active member for more than five years, would also not be able to exist on the level that it does without taxes. Its thousands of volunteers across the country better their communities, while at the same time giving its teenaged members leadership training and fostering a love for aviation that will endure for a lifetime. I love CAP, the people within its ranks, and the experiences that it gave me more than I can say. Without CAP, I’m not sure where I’d be right now.

I cannot summarize my feelings better than I did last year, so I will simply restate my closing paragraph:

“As a community, we can’t decide who to help, who deserves to benefit from the things taxes give us, or who should pay more or less depending on some arbitrary judgment of “goodness” or “worthiness.” Our neighborhoods are communities which are part of the city’s community, which is part of the state’s community, which is part of the nation’s community. Each individual is one of many, and unless we pool our resources, very few of us will succeed. Very few. Those who currently do not need “help” cannot stand in judgment of those who do. We have pooled our resources for a reason–because we are all equal. We are all equal, we are different, but the same, and we are part of the same community.

We think a lot about how taxes hurt; but how do they help?”

Contact your Senator and urge them to extend unemployment!

Holding the only income hostage that millions of Americans have to pay bills, buy food, and keep their homes from getting foreclosed on is abhorrent. Holding it hostage for tax breaks for the rich is especially so.

I e-mail Senator Mitch McConnell today. You should contact your senator as well. Here is my letter should you need any ideas:

Senator McConnell,

I cannot sit by any longer. I have watched you transform from a longstanding veteran Senator, getting many things done for Kentucky, despite my not agreeing with your politics, to someone who cannot and will not do anything save try to do anything you can to ensure President Obama is a one-term President. This is abhorrent.

While thousands of Kentuckians remain unemployed, how can you hold unemployment hostage? Kentucky isn’t going to recover from the recession overnight, nor will enough jobs be created to lower unemployment to acceptable levels, overnight. The most immediate way to help Kentucky is to extend unemployment while the unemployed continue to search for jobs.

I was lucky, Mr. McConnell. I found a job–a job doing (redacted) during night shift. I graduated from Western Kentucky University in May with degrees in English and political science. I am severely under-employed for my qualifications, but I am lucky in that I am bringing money home. My mother has not been so fortunate.

Did these tax cuts originally do anything to help the economy and create jobs? No, they didn’t. They simply further contributed to the profits made by companies who later crashed our economy. Now millions are jobless, homeless, and hungry, and you look to give further advantage to those who need your help the least?

Senator, you represent ALL Kentuckians. I ask that you remember the jobless, the poor, and the downtrodden of your constituency when you hold unemployment hostage for continuing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

I am willing to pay higher taxes, Senator, if that helps assist the US to recover from this recession. I can sacrifice for the greater good–that is what being an American, a Kentuckian, and a good neighbor is all about. If the top 3% earners are decent people, they will be willing to do the same.

Please do not hold the unemployment hostage. Do the right thing. Extend unemployment. Do not make the desperation of millions a weapon in the chamber.

Sincerely,

Brittany-Ann Wick

Taxes: Why I Don’t Mind Paying Them.

It seems like everyone has something to complain about in regards to taxes. It’s a pain to pay them, we shouldn’t have to, my tax refund isn’t big enough, etc etc etc.

I don’t mind paying taxes–no, really. Look at everything local, state, and the national government does with our tax money.

My taxes allow the government to allow me to take out loans to pay for my schooling; something no bank would do-give thousands of dollars to a seventeen year old woman? Pshh, silliness! The government banks on the idea that higher education will increase my productivity to society, and thus, my ability to pay them back. The bank loans solely on my ability to pay them back, with a lot of interest.

My taxes allow the government to fund food stamps. Mere dollars are taken out of my paycheck, and cents on the dollar out of my purchases , and I’m helping to feed thousands of people.

Iroquois Park, in Louisville, KY, gives residents a place to hike, bike, play, and enjoy Mother Nature. All paid for by our tax dollars.

My taxes pay for roads, for the government to oversee and regulate public services, our services members: students, active, and retired.

In paying my taxes, I’m giving back to a society that gives to me. I have clean air, relatively cheap tuition, roads and sidewalks to use, police to keep me safe, EMS to come to my rescue when I have a[nother] seizure in public, and many other things that I’m probably taking for granted.

It’s easy to take for granted the things that taxes pay for when we’ve never lived a life without them.

Stop and think for a minute–could we live the same lives if we kept our tax money and had nothing that those taxes pay for? No. We function as a community, a society. We live a life of relative comfort because of this. We are individuals, but we function as part of a group. I take care of me and mine, plus a whole lot of others, too, by paying taxes.

As a community, we can’t decide who to help, who deserves to benefit from the things taxes give us, or who should pay more or less depending on some arbitrary judgment of “goodness” or “worthiness.” Our neighborhoods are communities which are part of the city’s community, which is part of the state’s community, which is part of the nation’s community. Each individual is one of many, and unless we pool our resources, very few of us will succeed. Very few. Those who currently do not need “help” cannot stand in judgment of those who do. We have pooled our resources for a reason–because we are all equal. We are all equal, we are different, but the same, and we are part of the same community.

We think a lot about how taxes hurt; but how do they help?