It’s been, from the moment I first saw it, maybe 50 years ago, one of my favorite quotations, from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.”
Of course, Justice Holmes left out an essential element of the taxes for civilization deal, government. A more accurate statement of his idea might be: I like to pay taxes. With them I buy government, which uses my money to provide our nation the accoutrements of civilization, schools, courts, hospitals, roads and bridges, etc.
When taxes are cut, as has just been done by President Trump and the Republican majorities in Congress, there are undoubtedly lots of private winners and losers, but the biggest loser is government, whose revenues are substantially reduced. The next biggest loser is civilization.
The losses can most easily be measured in reductions to those structural signs of civilization I mentioned above. Whatever incremental savings on tax bills some citizens may realize, for most citizens they will be far out-weighed by the losses in facilities and services on which most citizens depend, required to offset the drop in tax revenues the new so-called “reform” creates.
Of course, to the richest citizens, the ones who never use public services, who opted their kids out of the public school system a generation or 2 ago, who wouldn’t be caught dead on a public bus or subway, or in a public pool or public park or public hospital, savaging the public budget imposes no losses at all.
Facilities that are shared with an undifferentiated public aren’t considered “civilized” enough to attract most rich people. To these outsiders from the common world, any reduction in public services will still leave something “good enough for them,” the people who depend on government for food, shelter, transportation, recreation, education, opportunity.
These distinctions mark the worst damage tax “reforms” like Trump’s do to civilization itself, a concept entirely defined by sharing. Civilizations are expressed by shared values, shared tastes in music and costume, shared sports and other diversions. Without things, ideas, attitudes, aspirations held in common, there is no civilization at all.
The take-what-you-can culture exemplified by Trump and his apocalyptic horses-asses of private acquisition – the career greed-heads like Mnuchin and Ross, the enablers like Zinke and Pruitt are bent on reducing everything held or done in common, and replacing it with things one person can sell to another, with the most stuff inevitably going to the person with the most to spend.
The glorification of selfishness is the diminishment of civilization.
The reason Trump hates journalists so much is that he and his government are devoted to a perfect perversion of the first principles of public service journalism, ”comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Trump and his tax law provide fresh comforts to the already comfortable while preventing government from relieving the afflictions of the afflicted.
The demography of comfort in Donald Trump’s American is so distorted, so focused on the kind of people who can afford to join his country clubs, and the smaller sub-set of that group who would want to, that, I believe, it cannot hold. Democracy like civilization sets its tent on common ground.
In reducing, in debasing the institutions and values we hold in common, the billionaire oligarchs, the Koch brothers, the Mercer Dad and Daughter, and their flunkies, like the yellow-haired demon in the White House aren’t just starving the American government, they’re destroying American civilization.
Where’s the evidence, you ask? In the details of the new tax law, a monstrously huge, slapdash concoction that reifies the concept that “haste makes waste.” “It’s fun if you’re a tax lawyer,” says law professor David Herzig, who adds, “I’m not sure it’s fun if you’re a person going through it.”
Jordan E. Goodman is “America’s Money Answers Man” and a nationally-recognized expert on personal finance. He is a regular guest on numerous radio and television call-in shows across the country, answering questions on personal financial topics. He appears frequently on The View, Fox News Network, Fox Business Network, CNN, CNBC and CBS evening news.
For 18 years, Jordan was on the editorial staff of Money magazine, where he served as Wall Street correspondent. While at Money, he reported and wrote on virtually every aspect of personal finance. In addition, he served as weekly financial analyst on NBC News at Sunrise for 9 years and the daily business news commentator on Mutual Broadcasting System’s America in the Morning show for 8 years.
He is the author / co-author of 13 best-selling books on personal finance including Master Your Debt Fast Profits in Hard Times, Everyone’s Money Book, Master Your Money Type, Barron’s Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms and Barron’s Finance and Investment Handbook.