Thursday, May 24, 2012

Americans View Taxes as Immoral, Experts Say

Although Americans are not taxed nearly as much as people in other Western countries, particularly Canadians and the British, there is nothing that vexes U.S. citizens more than more taxes. Experts say this is because middle-class Americans view taxes as more of a moral issue than other cultures, and one that is always tinged with a hint of exploitation. A recent survey showed that the middle class feels it is stuck paying for handouts to a lazy welfare class while the class above them manipulates tax laws in their favor. In the end, Americans view taxes as a matter of right and wrong, and the current tax structure appears immoral. For more on this continue reading the following article from Economist’s View.

This reinforces points I (and others) have made about why people oppose taxes:
 Why are some people morally against tax?, EurekAlert: ...Americans are famously hostile to taxes even though they are not heavily taxed in comparison to Canadians and the British. ...Dr Jeff Kidder and Dr Isaac Martin, from Northern Illinois University and the University of California-San Diego, explore how middle class feelings of exploitation lie behind this hostility.
"Everyday tax talk among the middle class is not simply part of a wider ideological view about economics or free markets," said Kidder. "Tax talk is morally charged and resonates with how Americans see themselves and their place in society."
The researchers conducted 24 semi-structured, open-ended interviews with taxpayers in the Southern states who owned or managed small businesses to discover how they talk about taxes in everyday life. Entrepreneurs are a demographic group which is typically strongly anti-tax, while the Southern States provide many supporters for the radical Tea Party.
Respondents saw themselves as morally deserving and hard-working people, sandwiched between an economically more powerful group that manipulates the rules for its own benefit and a subordinate group that benefits from government spending but escapes taxation.
"We found that people associate income tax with a violation of the moral principle that hard work should be rewarded," said Kidder. "Our research shows that when Americans lash out at 'takeovers,' 'massive taxes' and 'bailouts,' they are looking at these issues from the perspective of a hard-working middle class besieged on all sides. Tax talk is about dollars, but it is also about a moral sense of what is right."
It is typically believed that those who are anti-tax will also be hostile to government aid for the poor and minorities. However, rich recipients of bailouts were also disparaged as people who did not deserve money because they did not work for it.
"A lot of the tax talk you will hear from politicians this election season makes no sense as arithmetic," Martin said. "But it makes sense as an appeal to the moral sensibilities of small business."
"Our research shows that tax talk is not actually about individual self-interest, but about our respondents' sense of the proper relations among groups," concluded Kidder.
Here's how I put it a bit over a year ago:
...People believe they paid for programs such as Social Security and Medicare. They put in contributions each month, the government saves that money somewhere, somehow, and when they use these programs they aren't consuming from "government," they are consuming their own contributions. ...
So it's true that people want the budget cut, but only the parts where people are forced to pay for "underserving" recipients of these government services. The feeling is that they get up every day and do what's needed to support themselves and their families. They go each day to jobs they hate, hate, hate, hate with a passion because that's how life is, and they don't appreciate seeing their hard-earned money taken away and given to people who don't even try, people who could work if they wanted to, but rely on the system instead.
Now, I happen to think that is a very wrong view of the circumstances of the typical aid recipient, but true or not I do think it is the source of the opposition to many social programs. People don't object to Social Security and Medicare because they believe they paid for these programs in full, or close to it. Same for disability, food stamps, and other programs. They paid into these programs for years, just like medical insurance, and now it's their turn to consume some of the funds they put in... It's the people who consume without contributing that raise their ire and cause objections to these programs. It's the "handouts" that are the problem. ...
And as noted above, the same applies to handouts to the wealthy. (Which reminds me of my mom criticizing my uncle as I was growing up -- a very well off and very Republican farmer -- for complaining about welfare recipients while taking crop subsidy payments himself. She used to tell me he was on welfare too, except he didn't need it. I'll just add that financial executives in too big to fail banks didn't need it either.)

This blog post was republished with permission from Economist's View.

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