By Sarah Jost
This past week, Americans had to file their taxes. While having to pay money to the government isn’t usually anyone’s idea of fun, it might help to remember where that money is going. Paying taxes is what makes a participatory member of a society. In order to reap the benefits of taxes, such as the upkeep of streets and highways, emergency services, garbage disposal, the police, the post office, the court system, public schools, clean water, the national parks, libraries, buses and subway systems, and many many others, you must – wait for it – pay your taxes. Bemoaning this necessary cog of a working society is mute unless you would be willing to forfeit all of the aforementioned benefits.
That is not to say that you can’t be dissatisfied with the way your tax money is being spent. If you are: excellent. Write or call your Congressperson, president, or other officials. Because paying your taxes has given you the right to have a say in how they are spent. It has made you a contributing member of American society. The nation depends on you, your voice, and your tax dollars to function, and thus the United States is molded by its citizens.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. But over the course of history, it seems as though many Americans have become dissociated from their responsibility in ensuring the proper government of the country. Nowhere is America’s political apathy more apparent than in voter turnout statistics. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, a shockingly low 56% of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2008 presidential elections, compared with 95% in Australia (where voting is compulsory), 79% in New Zealand, and 65% in the UK. Despite espousing the virtues of democracy from every rooftop, the U.S. currently ranks 138th out of 172 countries in voter participation.
Americans have no problem criticizing the way the country is being run, but seem unwilling to take action to see it run as they would like. Paying taxes gives you a voice and the right to use it. Last year, 20% of federal tax dollars went to defense. As a pacifist, I continuously stay abreast of related issues and contact my elected official regularly to let them know my thoughts on various policies and actions. While huge amounts of money are being funneled to defense, a mere 2% of last year’s federal tax dollars went to education. In order to remain a competitive, advanced, and productive country on the global playing field, it is essential to educate the future generations. Similarly, only 3% of federal taxes went toward transportation infrastructure and 2% toward science and medical research. To me, these are sure signs that America has to reexamine its priorities, and I am sure to let my representatives know as much.
So if you were one of the many Americans who begrudgingly paid Uncle Sam this week, remember to appreciate the street lights the next time you have to walk down the street in the dark, or the clean drinking water from your tap. And make a habit of letting your elected officials know what you do and don’t want your tax money being used for. Remember Thoreau’s refusal to pay his taxes because he opposed slavery and the Mexican-American War. You have a say. Use it.