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Why Americans Hate Taxes


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Everybody hates paying taxes (I mean, it's taxes for goodness sakes), but some American are vehemently opposed to them.

To find out exactly why, researchers polled a group of middle-class, small business owners in the South, an area known for its anti-tax stance and support for the Tea Party. They discovered that the issue of taxes isn't just about dollars and cents - it's basically about fairness:

The participants "portray taxation as a threat to the moral order because they believe taxes deprive deserving hardworking middle class people of dignity, while rewarding others who are undeserving (both rich and poor)," the researchers write this week in the journal Symbolic Interaction. [...]

The interviews in the new study revealed participants associated income taxes as violating the moral principle that hard work should be rewarded, the researchers noted. So rather than being associated with a free-market ideology or a person's own economic interests, at least for these taxpayers, tax hostility was more linked with moral principles.

"When Americans lash out at 'takeovers,' 'massive taxes' and 'bailouts,' they are looking at these issues from the perspective of a hardworking middle class besieged on all sides," Kidder said in a statement. "Tax talk is about dollars, but it is also about a moral sense of what is right."

Jeanna Bryner of LiveScience has the full story: Link 


Indy's comment had to do with Income Taxes. There are many ways to collect taxes other than through income - Nick is well aware of VAT taxes. The bigger issue is once a government discovers (or is allowed by its citizens) another source of income through taxing methods, the "revenue neutral" mantra of those who support a new method of tax collection either forget their promise to eliminate the original method or new members of government are elected and all the old promises no longer supported.

The federal government should be an equalizer - not a decider of who gets what. What is wrong about setting minimum levels of support to be provided by states so all US citizens are treated fairly? Health care - why not outline minimum support and care to be provided for by whatever means a state decides?

Before 1913, the US lived within its means (somewhat) through taxation methods other than income taxes. The Constitution outlines those taxation methods which may be used to support the government. It also does not outline any social safety net. There is good reason for this - Hamilton and Jefferson both supported the states rights to provide or not provide these services. If the federal government never stepped outside the bounds of the Constitution, we would not need a split into several countries. You could choose to move to a state which chose to support and fund the services they wanted to provide to their citizens. Want to live somewhere any service you want is provided by the government? Move to a state which does so - and vice-versa.

This is not harsh, this is practical and puts the control of services exactly where it should be - where the founders thought it should be - controlled by local authorities . Why should the federal government have any say in elementary education other than to outline general standards of achievement? This would allow people to move among the states without fear of unequal education levels. Want police protection? Local and state law enforcement should be controlled and funded at that level. The federal law enforcement control should only be exercised at that level. Each state should have the right to build or not build infrastructure as the state's citizens see fit. Return to the proper power balance structure and these issues are no longer issues.

But of course this will not happen. Everyone will cry Social Security, old people being abandoned, the poor, oh the poor. We have enshrined these social programs over 60+ years of existence. No politician would dare discuss the real ways of getting our countries out of debt and why this country was founded on the principal of self-reliance and charity - they would get shouted down just as Indy and JoeD.

I live just above the poverty line. I live in a state which values a good library system (paid through local taxes and controlled by a locally elected board) so I can access the web through its connection. I'm learning a new trade (at age 52) to support myself after my former job was eliminated due to computers and the internet - my trade allows me to earn while going to school - sort of an apprenticeship. It can be done; you just have to want to.

There were old, poor, and disabled people before 1913. Families, friends, and churches were support structures - there is no reason for the federal government to provide services not listed in our founding documents. Our state can make those decisions through local elections and votes.
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JoeD I read the Davy Crockett article and I see elements of truth in the particulars of that one case (assistance to be provided to the widow in question was not fair, given that other widows were ignored). However, that story is by no means representative of the wider case being made against taxation - it argues against the provision of charity, ANY charity, by central government. But if this were to be removed then:

Hurricane Katrina victims would have been abandoned by the US government and left to get on with it

Victims of the 9/11 attacks would be similarly left to fend for themselves (at least one of the comments on the article argues exactly that - they should get no help at all)

Disabled people - no help for you from the government. Get a job and pay for your own damned wheelchairs.

Similarly, the homeless, the elderly, in fact anyone in need at all, would have to rely purely on the charity of people in their communities if government assistance ('charity' in the terms of the article) were not available.

In other words, let the people who need help the most plead their case to their communities and hope that someone will help them. And if that doesn't happen, the government should not lift a finger to help them.

How comfortable is life for people who are forced to beg for help?

What a contemptible point of view. It is not 'charity' to provide assistance to people who are in need, it is civic DUTY. Helping its own citizens to prosper is the ONLY business the government should be in. That takes many forms, but it the very essence of government - to make sure its citizens lead better lives.

As for your example of taxes collected in 1941 compared to 4 years later, 1945... I wonder why taxes had to increase in those years. Could it have been something to do with that costly little skirmish known as World War Two?

The UK was practically bankrupted by WW2 and yet in 1948 still managed to put together the National Health Service, which provides universal healthcare for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Before we had that, people had to rely on their own income to pay for healthcare, or on charity, and if none was forthcoming they simply died.

If it is government 'charity' to keep people comfortable who would otherwise suffer, and if I am compelled to pay for it (we all pay National Insurance, which is a percentage of income), then I'd prefer that system any day of the week to the one espoused by a man known for his love of silly fur hats.
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Nice to see a balanced and respectful discussion on such a hot topic. Y'all made my night.

I lived many years in Atlanta, GA, where taxes were low, but public services were poor. Now I'm in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where taxes are extremely high, but the public services are excellent.

The way I see it, you get what you pay for, and that includes the security of a social safety net, as Nick explains. It may be 'big government' providing those services, or a private company (such as medical insurance), but as long as the service is well-managed and I get good value for my money, it shouldn't matter who provides it.
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@Nick Gisburne - No I don't seriously think there shouldn't be public systems. I never said there should be no taxes. You totally missed a key word in what I said:

"I disagree that the ONLY mean to address that is taxes".

The government is charged with maintaining an infrastructure and did a fine job for a long time. Once Milton Friedman came up with the idea of a federal withholding for income tax instead of a lump sum to be paid once a year, the goverment coffers exploded. Federal taxes collected in 1941 was $8.4 billion and accounted for 7.2% of the GDP. A mere four years later, the government collected $45.1 billion and the percentage jumped to a whopping 20.4% of the GDP. One simple idea of taking a little tax out of each paycheck before an employee would even see their check (out of sight, out of mind) has had a monumental effect on what the government does.

Here's a little anecdote (OK, not so little) from Davy Crockett that sums up for me how the government is not in the charity business; that should be left up to the citizens:

http://personalliberty.com/2010/04/09/sockdolager-a-tale-of-davy-crockett-charity-and-congress/
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JoeD, name me a country where there are no taxes and the whole country is run on charity.

Do you seriously think there should be no public school system, no roads, no police force, no armed forces, unless people decide they want to contribute to those things out of the goodness of their hearts? Here's how that will work: 5% of people will contribute, 95% of people won't bother, because it's voluntary and they prefer to hold onto their money. And even the 95% probably won't pay nearly enough to cover what is needed for basic infrastructure. Nobody wants a huge tax bill, so what makes you think they will want a huge 'charity bill' every month? If it's optional, many will simply opt out.

Richer people would presumably be able to decide that they don't want to fund the infrastructure of poor areas, and of course the poor people in those areas wouldn't be able to afford to do so. So the rich stay rich, the poor stay poor, with no chance of climbing upwards. Who wants to pay for affordable housing and good schools for minorities when they can just as easily put their money into something which would benefit their already wealthy communities?

And do you really want to see TV ads where the fire service begs you for money so they can do a more effective job? Sorry poor people, you get a pump and a bucket, because the rich folks uptown put their money into state-of-the-art equipment. What? You don't have any water even for your pump? That will be the huge dam we funded so that all the water could stay up-river where we live.

Extreme examples, but if people think that 'charity begins at home' they are more than likely to be charitable towards THEIR home, not someone else's.

Yes you can fund SOME projects with charity. If there's an earthquake or a hurricane people will obviously give what they can. But you cannot run a whole country on nothing but charity, not year after year. People are too selfish, and they also get tired of giving, particularly if they are bombarded with requests from dozens of different charities wanting their money, which is what would happen under a 'charity only' system.

We have to be taxed so that those people who DON'T like paying still have to share the load.
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@Nick Gisburne - I agree and disagree. I agree that we don't live in isolation, but I disagree that the only mean to address that is taxes. Charitible giving allows an individual to assess where his/her money goes (what's a worthy cause, which organization maximises their dollars the best/helps the greatest amount of people, etc...). Taxes going towards government programs doesn't allow an individual to distribute their money to programs they deem worthy vs programs they deem a monetary waste (such as the Gravina Island Bridge, aka, the Bridge to Nowhere).
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You know, I think the anger about taxes is a symptom of a deeper problem, in that people resent working so hard when others don't. And those "others" are represented by the rich and the poor.

The largest groups of poor people are children and the elderly, but angry folks only see the unemployed, disabled, mothers of young children, drug addicts, unskilled, unhealthy, undereducated, and those who are not too smart or can't catch a break. And they are blamed for their inability to work. Even poor people who work are looked at as "not working hard enough."

Rich people are resented because they aren't struggling. They may work, but they don't break a sweat and they don't have to hold down two jobs to get by.

American working people in the middle are putting in too many hours, giving up vacations, holding down two jobs, and worrying about everything, because they can easily be replaced by one of the many, many unemployed people. And people stay in jobs they hate because of the health insurance.

Americans work too much. European companies must hire more people because they have mandated vacations, contracted working hours, paid maternity leave, and various quality-of-life laws. If we could level out the amount of work, we'd have fewer people unemployed and less stress for those who work. And probably less resentment and class warfare. But that would be an extra expense for business, and business influences law here in the U.S.
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@ForReallyReal & @Indy

Y'alls need to think a little more broadly--as in beyond your own sphere of consumption. It's clear that your priorities are all about "your" money--versus realizing that money is not infinite and does come from somewhere, is extracted from elsewhere. Hoarding money to no fruitful end is harmful to a capital economy. Reinvestment is critical. However, a problem occurs when liquidity dries up from the market because of excessive concentrations of "wealth." It's kind of like the ancient story of the knight who has to kill the dragon keeping the virgin prisoner and the gold and jewels locked away. Liquidity kept out of circulation ultimately harms a economic system that relies upon demand, investment, and re-investment. The moment uncertainty occurs, the whole system locks up: Capital ceases to move. In other words, too much concentration of capital with too few results in a seizing up of the economy. That's called income inequality. Hoarding is bad; flow is good.
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ForReallyReal, you say "If I want to make a million dollars a year and use up the same resources as someone who makes 20,000 a year, shouldn’t I pay the same as them?"

My answer: No.

No, because the poorest people are hit hardest by that kind of tax system. It's why in the US millions of people on low and moderate incomes have no health care - they simply can't afford it. So (let's be blunt about this) the poorer you are the less likely you are to survive a major illness - no money, no operations, medicines, etc. Can't pay your medical bills? Sad day for you.

High sales tax hits the poor harder because a greater proportion of their income goes on buying essentials. 20% on a new limo is a luxury, 20% on a loaf of bread is not.

Those Americans who resent paying income tax are saying 'I want as much money as I can get and I want as little of it as possible to be used for anyone else's benefit'. Thankfully I don't have to live in that kind of anti-social country.

I get the benefit of my taxes in public services, and perhaps I won't get more of those services if I earn more, but the more I earn the more tax I pay (and remember I'll still have more money to keep for myself) and the more tax I pay the more will be available to benefit the OTHER people of the country I live in.

And if I'm ever down on my luck I know there'll be a safety net. If I need a major operation I'll get it and I won't have to sell everything I own to do so - I've paid into a system which lets me benefit from that system if I need it. I know that if my business goes through a bad patch I won't have to pay as much income tax. When things pick up, I'll pay more - because I can afford to do so.

Any money I earn is accumulated inside a country built and paid for by taxation. I profit from the infrastructure maintained by those taxes, so I think it's only right to contribute, and to do so according to my ability to pay.

ForReallyReal and Indy, your way of thinking is 'if I don't benefit from it, I don't want to pay for it'. But we don't live in isolation. You get to keep most of the money you earn, but some of it belongs to your country. It's where you live. I don't know why you wouldn't want to pay for the town or city you live in, and instead see it as money which has been 'confiscated'.

In my opinion, sharing the benefits of wealth (and I'm not 'wealthy' by any means, but I do okay) is a good thing. I'm all for it.
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@ForReallyReal You got it!

It's interesting that the income tax is now so ingrained in our psyche that it's difficult for many to think of a world without it. Yet, a number of states operate just fine without it.

You may never see the money, but it's still YOUR money before the government confiscated it. You earned it.
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I'm guessing Indy is in favor of sales tax, gas tax, etc. You want money to maintain the roads, put a tax on vehicle registration and gasoline. Obviously phones and hospitals are paid for by those who use them. So I don't think it's fair to say "no income tax = you want everything for free."

If I want to make a million dollars a year and use up the same resources as someone who makes 20,000 a year, shouldn't I pay the same as them?

Some states have higher sales tax and zero state income tax. What's wrong with that? You pay taxes based on what you spend, not what you earn.
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I'd be curious to know more about what revenue streams Indy thinks are fairer than income taxes. He clearly says he's not opposed to taxes, just income taxes. I certainly don't love them, but on some level appreciate that the government needs money to certain basic things. If there's a better way to fund the government, then I am all ears!
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@Nick - ah yes you Brits love to pay taxes and forget Americans hate it. I think I remember a little scrimmage we awhile ago to emphasis the point.
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To those who think that living without taxes means living without a great many structural conveniences that we take for granted, I think they vastly underestimate the nature of the people who pay taxes, most likely judging them by their own standard.
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Can we start having a serious discussion about severing this country in two or possibly three? For the people who benefit substantially from taxes in all of its forms to be morally opposed to paying it should live in their own tax free utopia. I'd like to make sure they begin their new country free of all of the things that taxes have provided (which would leave them almost nothing), but that's not very nice. When they decry not getting to a hospital in time because they have no phones to call an ambulance, no roads to drive on and no hospital to provide care, they'd likely cry foul, but we don't work like that.

Seriously, let's cite irreconcilable differences and call half red, half blue and the other half whatever. We're not getting along anyway, let the tax-free moralists have their own place to be morally superior.
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If 30% of my income is taken to pay for universal healthcare (I'm British), roads, police, fire service, the armed forces, roads, schools, street lighting, public parks and outdoor spaces, conservation, care for the elderly, the homeless, and the disabled, and for foreign aid to those countries without all these and many other advantages which we first world people take for granted... I can't really see a problem with it.

Income tax: the more you earn, the more you pay. Yes, that seems fair to me, given that the more we earn the more we can AFFORD to pay. I never see the money anyway, so it's never really mine. I wonder if Indy wants all the benefits I've listed provided for free. The money has to come from somewhere.
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I have no problem with taxes, however I do have a problem with income taxes. An income tax is basically the equivalent of the government saying that you do not have the right to all the fruits of your labor. They steak claim to a portion of your livelihood and you are gracious for whatever portion they allow you to keep. In essence it's part-time slavery. It shouldn't be anybody's (especially the government's) business to know how much money you make.

There many forms of taxation the government can use to raise funds. The income tax just happens to be the most vile, abusive, and manipulative form. It also happens to be the most power giving, so I doubt we will ever seen and end to it.
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