Saturday, April 15, 2006

 

A Short Story

There once was a town. Its name is unimportant, all that really needs to be known about the town in the times just after its inception is that its people worked tirelessly to provide for their families and held their neighbors and community in high regard. In time the town grew into a city, and in some more time it grew into a metropolis. New neighbors came, surrounding towns grew into cities themselves, but the spirit of community never left. The idea that everyone contributing to the common good led to a better life for all.

The metropolis was on the leading edge among its peers. Hi-tech businesses wanted to be there because the people were smart, hard-working folk. The public education system was second to none. Some citizens were rich by birth, some weren't. Some worked hard and pushed their way into a higher tax bracket, others worked hard and stayed where they were. Everyone contributed though, because of that old idea of the common good.

And then a funny thing happened. Whether it was a sickness that entered from outside as the common cold might, or a black spot emanating from the heart of the sprawling metropolis, no one knows. All that is known is that something happened - the common good wasn't quite so common anymore. Some politicians, some unscrupulous businessmen, some of the richer folk, and a few others who didn't really know what they were getting themselves into, decided that taxes and the government they supported were evil. They all worked together to lower taxes, using terms like "tax relief" and calling taxes "burdens."

It wasn't important that the tax system made sure that the people paying the most taxes were those who were pulling in the most money, and were mightily comfortable even after paying large tax bills - what they had left far outstripped their contribution to the common good. It wasn't important to these anti-tax crusaders to consider what those taxes paid for. It was only important to reduce them.

And that strange thing that happened got worse. Along with the roads - you see, the taxes those crusaders got cut went in part to pay for road maintenance. These brave leaders had an answer though - more tax cuts were necessary to encourage businesses to come to the area, to pay more taxes themselves and employ more taxpayers. These cuts would pay for themselves in time.

These new cuts slashed funding to education programs - the local university, high schools, advanced placement programs. In a few years' time, teachers started to complain - class sizes were going up, and they were unable to give students the attention they needed to be successful in school. Those same brave crusaders had an answer for this new crisis - they would take a portion of the tax revenue they had left, and offer "vouchers" to lower-income families so they could send their children to private schools. That, in combination with standards for public schools, would make sure every child had a chance at a good education in a private school where standards couldn't be enforced.

The public education system wasn't as important as keeping taxes low so the economy could thrive. Only these leaders were speaking in code - when they talked about "the economy" and the effect tax cuts would have on it, they were really saying "our richest neighbors and those who contribute the most to our campaigns." When they talked about "tax relief" they were really saying "refunding money to our contributors so they can buy another Mercedes and keep funding our campaigns."

The roads grew more potholes every winter. The schools continued to slide against their peers in other cities.

It didn't matter that their idea of supply-side economic theory had already been debunked several years prior; by this time it was all those crusaders knew. Tax cuts are good, tax increases are bad for the economy. And they drove on and complained ever-louder about broken roads, and opposed public transportation initiatives, and fought tooth and nail against restoring funding to public education, and recoiled in horror at the idea that every citizen could be covered by a public health care system. These things would hurt "the economy," and "tax relief" was a more sensible solution to cure the economic woes of the metropolis.

But there came a day when the government had run up a debt - it hadn't been taking in enough revenue to pay for its commitments. And the beating drum labeled "tax relief" started to sound hollow and tinny. The people longed to return to the days when the common good mattered more than attracting a big-box store to the neighborhood. They longed to once again have the best public schools anywhere. They longed for the days when everyone understood that if I pay a dollar, and you pay a dollar, and your father-in-law pays a dollar, and everyone else pays a dollar too, we can all contribute to something that benefits each of us to a degree vastly superior to what a dollar could get me.

And those anti-tax crusaders kept screaming and yelling about how evil their opponents were for ever suggesting that new taxes would be necessary and would contribute to the common good. But the people started to ignore the crusaders, because they were tired of leaders who went out of their way to enact policies that served the few at the expense of the many. From the many rose leaders who understood where the people came from, what made their community what it was, and how to get back what the crusaders stole from the people. And those leaders fought back, and in the midst of that battle we find ourselves today.

I'm not sure how this story's going to end. What role will you play in its conclusion?

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