So, how much are taxes costing your family?
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Wednesday, April 12, 2006

It’s that time again, when we dig out the shoe box of receipts and buy the latest tax software and/or Lasser’s guide. Many of us will grumble about the increasing complexity of income taxes. But lost in the annual debates is an important question: How much do taxes really cost us? Most people have no idea how much we pay to support the giant bureaucratic blob referred to as “the government.”

Tax-and-spend, welfare state proponents assert that taxes are simply the price we pay for living in a civilized country. But what a price! The average Iowan works until mid-April just to pay their federal, state and local taxes. That’s income taxes, payroll taxes, property tax (which renters pay too), sales tax, excise taxes (on alcohol, gasoline, telephone, etc.), import taxes, estate (“death”) tax, auto registration fees, and many others too. And if you count the higher prices we pay for things due to all the regulations that businesses must comply with (an indirect tax), our total cost of propping up the government amounts to about half of our annual incomes. Half.

How could we be paying half of our income in taxes and not realize it? Because we don’t have to pay it all at once. Instead, the money is stealthily deducted from each paycheck before you even see it, added to the sale of every item you buy and included in the rent or mortgage payment you make every month. The government is clever in this regard – if we all had to cough up tens of thousands of dollars every April, we would be far less willing to support obvious pork projects such as the Iowa Rainforest.

And there are other costs: Income taxes cost us our privacy, by requiring us to report our personal information to the government. They discourage good citizenship by tempting normally law-abiding citizens to become lawbreakers, by exaggerating our deductions and hiding income such as tips. And they drag down the economy, costing jobs, by making prices higher and penalizing us for working.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as freedom-loving. However, we don’t question whether or not the government has the right to take our money from us before we even see it. The IRS snoops into personal information about how we make and spend our money, threatening fines, seizure of assets and imprisonment at gunpoint if we fail to comply. And suspected noncompliers are “guilty until proven innocent,” unlike under the justice system.

Taxes mean that the government really owns everything, and that we are indentured servants who work solely for the purpose of producing revenue for the state. The government, like the monarchs our ancestors came to America to escape, allows the serfs to “own” land only as long as we pay our “rent” – even if we’ve already paid off the mortgage. How free are we if our labor and the things we’ve paid for with labor don’t really belong to us?

When our Constitution was written, the citizens deliberately refused to allow the government to tax income, fearing exactly the kind of government power we face today.
They relied instead upon minimal import duties and excise taxes to support a much smaller government. We didn’t have a permanent income tax until 1914, after which continued socialist experiments have resulted in the bloated welfare state we live in today.

Perhaps it is too late to do anything about our heavy burden. Perhaps our civilization will collapse beneath it, like many previous empires have. (Roman citizens sold themselves into slavery to escape the onerous tax yoke imposed on them by the collapsing Roman state.) Certainly the baby boomers and earlier generations have become permanently addicted to their entitlements – witness the inability of reformers to modify the doomed Social Security program. I like to think that my generation, the X-ers, might be more able to resist the empty promises of the welfare state, but that could be wishful libertarian thinking.

The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing the full extent of it. How much are taxes costing you and your family?