Looking at taxes

Ever since there have been taxes, people have been against paying them.

If we define a tax as a “non-productive burden on our activities,” then it makes sense. And a payment doesn’t have to be to the government to be a tax.

Is paying your electric bill a tax? Most people don’t mind paying for electricity, because it makes their lives safer and happier, and helps them do their job with dramatically more productivity.

So the payment isn’t what makes something a tax, it’s the non-productive part.

When industrial systems arrive, they’re usually embraced because the transactions they offer are so productive. When Walmart comes to a town, everyone gets a short-term raise, because the cost of buying the things we want and need goes down. When a new technology or system offers to save people time and money in the short run, it’s often embraced because it’s a free choice and productive.

But then the rules start to change.

Monopolies are a tax. They limit choice and raise prices. As a result, we pay “taxes” on a regular basis for things like broadband and spare parts because there are no options.

Loss of vibrant markets is a tax. When local businesses are upended, then jobs are lost, choices are diminished and the essence of a community fades away.

Lobbying is a tax. As large industrial entities invest money to capture government control, each of us pay for this even though it only benefits the lobbyists.

Subsidies and duties are a tax. Last year, Americans spent 50 billion dollars subsidizing the beef industry. Constraints on trade aren’t called taxes, but they are.

Traffic is a tax. The time we spend waiting for a train or sitting in traffic is time we don’t get back, and unmade investments in mass transit infrastructure cost us far more than the ones we do make.

Lack of public health systems is a tax. The inability to find clean water, or the prospect of often getting ill is a real cost.

And climate change is a looming and sneaky tax. The money and loss of productivity that it already costs us, and the extraordinary amounts it will cost us are unproductive burdens on meeting our goals and living our lives.

There are no government taxes on an abandoned desert island. But it’s almost impossible to imagine living or working there.