Taxes Are the Dues We Pay to Live in a Civilized, Democratic Society

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source : Possibilitator, February 5, 2017



[I attempted to get this viewpoint published in three newspapers in Michigan without success. So I am putting it out there via the blogosphere. Share as you see fit].

Taxes are the dues we pay to live in a civilized, democratic society.

Recent Michigan legislation introduced to eliminate the state income tax therefore suggests the end of our so-called democracy.  We have been accelerating our race towards oligarchy in recent years with the deleterious Citizen’s United case that makes it easier for the wealthy to purchase elections, the recent election handing the 0.1% the reins of government, and the avalanche of mergers and acquisitions that concentrate more wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands.

Who accrues the most from the elimination of income tax? No surprise, it’s the wealthiest among us. And when government is totally starved, who will repair all the market failures and pay for externalities like pollution that aren’t in the private sector’s balance sheets? The extreme wealthy already own our government via fossil fuels, banking, the military-industrial-complex and pharmaceutical conglomerates, with their minions at the top. A functioning democracy would wrestle some of the power back to the citizens. Voting isn’t enough. Citizens need to pressure government to do the right thing.  Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Here’s an example: The poisoning of the Tittibiwassee River from dioxins was largely the work of Dow Chemical upstream in Midland. Once the problem was identified, largely with the help of concerned citizens who live in the watershed, Dow was approached by the DEQ and EPA to fix it. But Dow, now merging with Dupont after swallowing Union Carbide following that firm’s deadly example of citizenship in Bhopal, India, sought delay after delay. The cost of cleanup was substantial, hence their reluctance to finance the repair, a similar story only magnified in Bhopal .  But much of the Dow largess is tucked away in Dow Family foundations, which bequeath some small portion each year to beautify Midland and support other community causes; the benefactors are then showered with adulation from those who benefit from the crumbs from their table.’

When I sat for a brief stint on an environmental advisory panel that looked at that issue more than a decade ago, I noted that tapping some of the Dow Foundation money could easily cover the cost of cleaning up the Tittibiwassee mess. Of course, such a radical suggestion was quickly ignored and the foundations, who weren’t at the table, weren’t offering.

There is something magical about great wealth. We tend to be enamored of it, perhaps imagining ourselves living in palatial surroundings, totally unconcerned about expenditures. Those who argue that the wealthiest among us pay the most in taxes (in real dollars) always neglect a fundamental reality: it’s not how much one pays but how much one has left that really matters.

The median household income in the US is roughly $50,000.  Current Michigan tax (4.25%) on that amount is $2,125, leaving $47,875. To be in the semi-lofty 1% category you need to make a minimum of $429,000, in which case your tax would be $19,072, leaving you a meager $409,928 to scrape by. But this is one year only. If those incomes stay steady for even ten years the one-percenters earn $4,290,000 and pay democracy dues of $190,725, leaving them with $4,099,275 compared with our median family which has earned $478,750. The difference, then, between the two families’ wealth has grown from $362,053 to $3,620,500.


This is the disease that is spreading rapidly here and abroad. It is now among the highest risk concerns as identified by the World Economic Forum in their recent 2017 Global Risks Report. Our state legislators are oblivious. We shouldn’t be.

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Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

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