I am not a 'taxpayer'
Few labels irritate me more than that of being referred to as a taxpayer, and of having the money governments spend referred to as taxpayers’ dollars. From the wealthiest tycoon to the most destitute homeless beggar in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, every person in this country pays taxes – no exceptions. When I purchase a single carrot at the farmers’ market, what I pay to the vendor includes contributions to the property tax levied on the land on which the carrot was grown, and to sales and income taxes levied in the production and sale of the garden utensils the farmer used to grow that carrot. The taxes I pay on that carrot are indirect and the amount is infinitely small, but they are nonetheless paid.
The dictionary defines taxes as the “rate or sum of money assessed on a citizen’s person, property, or activity for the support of government, levied upon assets or real property, upon income, or upon the sale or purchase of goods.” Referring to taxpayers’ dollars in a debate about government programs and services is senseless, as the only kind of money government at any level has to spend is money collected as a tax. The powers of governments to impose taxes, which include royalties, fees, charges and other levies, and the means of their collection, are limited only by their politics and their imaginations. Governments have it within their powers and discretion to impose charges in any form, by any name, on any activity or asset and by whatever rationale or yardstick they may choose. Every dollar spent by a government is a dollar raised by a government by way of taxation.
The purpose of democratic governments is to provide programs and services for the benefit of citizens. These programs and services are not paid for by governments, they are paid for by citizens – by all of us. These revenue and expenditure principles apply to democratic governments at every level: federal, provincial, and municipal. We all contribute to the cost of sending a plow truck down my residential street at five in the morning just as we all contribute to the cost of using a big airliner to fly the Prime Minister and his invited guests to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral. That one government is municipal and the other federal is irrelevant.
References to taxpayers suggest that some people work hard and contribute to the common good while a lazy bunch of others get a free ride. The taxpayer and taxpayers’ dollar labels fuel resentment in some people. Their use is meant to instill the lazy ones with feelings of guilt. This leads to tensions which provide an excuse to abandon weaker members in our society to their own devices. The resulting social stratification is exploited by ideologues who see themselves as protectors of the good, as the taxpayers’ guardians.
History teaches us that the health and vitality of a democratic nation is sustained by equality and by fairness in the allocation of and access to the common good. Margaret Thatcher’s assertion that people need to rely on their own devices raises questions as to the purpose of government. Her denial of society’s very existence is as extreme a position as is Karl Marx’s call for wealth to flow “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Both are ideological extremes and as such are a strain on the health and vitality of a democratic society.
We are citizens and we all contribute to the common good. The taxpayer and tax dollar labels contribute nothing to our politics. These labels are not only meaningless, they are harmful distractions because they divert our attention away from where it should be focused: on those we elect to administer our common good.
Andre Carrel is a retired City Administrator, journalist, author, and full-time grandpal.