Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Don't Forget: Freedom Ain't Really Free

If you think freedom is free, you obviously don't understand the tax system. Don't be embarrassed. Before I started in the tax industry I didn't put much thought into the relation between taxes and being able to do what I wanted. The idea just didn't cross my mind. But after taking part and listening to countless calls about how the tax system is unjust, corrupt, counter-American, (enter expletive), (enter expletive), and on and on, it hit me--freedom ain't free and we as a nation don't seem to either understand or respect that.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., an American jurist in the early part on the 20th Century, put it perfectly when he said, "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society." But by being born into a country with automatic Freedom of Speech and the Right to Bear Arms, we grow up assuming it's just another part of our US Citizenry; we take it for granted as free. I mean, you can't take the First Amendment to a cashier at Walmart and purchase it. Adding to the problem is that you don't feel a tax burden until you start to make an income. These facts distance the relationship between the right we have and the taxes we pay. So, it's easy to see why paying taxes seems like such an imposition.

Additionally, we tend to attribute tax money to tangible things bought, like the $5,000 government pen and ill-planned city road. So of course we're going to be sore about shelling out our hard earned money for this garbage. Who would be happy about paying for that? But, once again, these gripes allow us to distract ourselves from seeing the rights we enjoy as expenses as well.

What I'm saying here is not a defense of the tax system, per se. I hate paying taxes just like the next person and I disagree with funding government overspending and frivolous spending just like anyone else would. But I can't get totally down on taxes. As a woman, I like being able to exit my home in whatever I please, go wherever I want, and have no one to answer to. I like being able to vote. And I like the ability to blog that the Freedom of Speech allows me. And it's with these things I remind myself why taxes are important.

In one of my college's Philosophy of Law classes we discussed that “individuals entering into society must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest." You may think of your ability to reject paying taxes as one of these "given up" liberties. And you should not be allowed to forget it. The tax system may need reform. The IRS may have a greater jurisdiction than it should. But to basically say that you should not be required to pay any taxes is ridiculous. All too often we expect something for nothing. Freedom is not one of those things that come without a price tag. And for something so inherently valuable, we shouldn't expect it to.

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