Column – Taxes are part of privilege of being an American

Published 6:54 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2024

There’s a television ad airing these days that, frankly, irks me. Well, there are several, but this one in particular is troubling, for it speaks graphically about what our country has become.

It features a man whining that he owed $15,000 in federal taxes. He makes no claim that he didn’t owe the taxes, or that somebody made a mistake. He doesn’t say he’s out of work and couldn’t make arrangements to pay. Nor does he tell us how much of the sum was past due and how much was penalty and interest — in other words, how long he dodged paying it. He just owed it, and the IRS was threatening to put a lien on his property and garnish his wages to collect — the same kinds of things that other creditors have to resort to when debtors don’t pay what they owe.

But have no fear, he called a company that specializes in negotiating taxes for taxpayers and, lo and behold, he ended up paying only $3,500. 

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Well, on behalf of those of us who have paid all our taxes — dutifully though not happily, you may be sure — let me say to this gentleman, “You’re welcome,” because we collectively are making up the difference of whatever taxes you didn’t pay plus many more like it for people and companies that don’t pay their taxes as they go along.

Similar ads trumpet the merits of companies that browbeat credit card companies out of what people owe them. Now, I’m not a fan of credit card company policies. For example, I believe the Biden administration took a huge step on behalf of working families recently when it ordered credit card companies to cap late fees at $8, about 25% of what has been typical. 

Most anyone who charges more than they can pay at the end of the month must endure interest because they are borrowing money, and occasionally, they’re apt to make a late payment. But they borrowed the money, and when we borrow money, it’s expected that we will pay it back on terms most often set by the lender — within legal limits, of course. 

Unpaid taxes become a direct additional cost to those who pay their taxes, but unpaid credit card debt impacts all of us as well. It’s a cost of doing business and, like any other cost, it gets passed on in time to everyone doing that business, in this case everybody using credit cards.

Not paying taxes or credit card debt has become a generally accepted attitude in our country. It’s an attitude that would have appalled many of the generation of Americans who had to seriously do without during the Great Depression years and World War II.

Folks who lived back then, those whom we choose to call the “Greatest Generation,” have been replaced by the “Me Generation,” which began to take root with the Baby Boomers and which we have nourished and encouraged in each succeeding generation from then until now.

The attitude of “what’s in it for me” has tainted our national politics pretty dramatically. Specifically, the “I don’t want to pay my share of taxes” has led the national Republican Party to make damaging the IRS a major party policy. Specifically, the party wants to strip the IRS of funds needed to collect back taxes. None of us likes the idea of an audit since we can all make honest mistakes. But audits are a necessary part of enforcing tax laws, fear them or not. 

It would be nice if all of us could simply avoid paying any national taxes, but the cost would be totally unacceptable. We would have to give up national defense. The interstate highway system would have to be abandoned. You could no longer depend on the meat in the grocery store being inspected for safety, and heaven help the drugs that could be turned loose without an FDA. There would be no CIA or NSA monitoring terrorist activity and, well, the list would go on ad infinitum.

Don’t forget that Social Security is also funded by a national tax. How many elderly recipients want to see that eliminated?

Of course, there’s government waste. Nobody’s denying that. But by and large, we don’t do badly as a nation. We have the most powerful and best equipped military in the world, we have the safest food supply anywhere and, now that we’re rebuilding it after years of neglect, we will once again have an infrastructure that can continue to make our economy the strongest in the world. People flock to our country in sometimes alarming numbers because of the quality of life here. Not many want to leave.

It’s just plain stupid to even talk about largely gutting the agency responsible for collecting the funds needed to drive government services, but it’s not the only stupid thing being said in politics today.

Meanwhile, I hope that fellow who got a windfall in foregone taxes and interest used it to take his wife on a nice trip. She’s probably earned it just by living with him.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is