In the community, making a difference

A two headed coin

“The art of taxation consists of plucking the goose to obtain the most feathers with the least hissing.”

Jean Baptiste Colbert, French Minister of Finances, King Louis XIV (1665-1683).

Paying tax is like gambling with a two-headed coin. The outcome is inevitable, leaving a feeling of disconnection that it goes to an authority with seemingly ubiquitous power. On April 18, the United States Internal Revenue Service will collect an estimated $2.1 trillion in federal income taxes. In charitable giving, there is choice, specific need and confidence the money goes for an intended purpose.

The divide over public versus private is deep, widened by the manipulation of facts, numbers, economic indicators and anecdotal evidence. The visibility of what is honorable and decent is clouded by opinion-makers beating the drum of partisanship 24/7. Politicians “squeeze our Charmin” with catchy phrases like these marketing slogans: “follow my nose, it always knows” (Froot Loops) and “we want to help you do things right” (Stanley).

Barry Goldwater in 1964 used the slogan, “In your heart you know he’s right.” That was countered by Lyndon Johnson: “In your guts you know he’s nuts.” Johnson won the election with 61.1 percent of the popular vote and 44 out of 50 states. He created the Great Society and war on poverty with nearly 200 programs related to health, welfare, education, civil rights and the arts. Johnson’s favorite Bible verse is from the King James version of Isaiah 1:18 – “Come now and let us reason together.”

John W. Gardner, secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the Johnson administration, was architect of many of the programs. In a speech titled “The American Experiment” and delivered on April 1, 1998, he cautioned that great institutions could be toppled by erosion of the intangible bonds of society – laws, customs, mutual respect and shared beliefs. A culture of “stand your ground” has developed from individual feelings of mistrust, resentment and self-interest that manifests inflammatory condemnation, not constructive criticism.

To try and conceptualize the role of federal income tax dollars one might begin in the community of Alpena where it supports air service at Alpena County Regional Airport, preservation of Great Lakes heritage at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and education and job training at Alpena Community College. The programs of the Great Society help those in poverty with issues of hunger, homelessness and health, which charities in the area address. By volunteering at local organizations you can come to understand the challenge and the people served.

Nordquist, Americans for Tax Reform has said, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” If he achieves that goal, let’s hope he uses Mr. Bubble, a bath product marketed in 1961 with the slogan, “Helps bubble you clean and leaves no bathtub ring.” Another point of view is that of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court (1902-1932), “I like to pay taxes, with them I buy civilization.”