The taxpayer Ruthless Criticism

The taxpayer

Ever since the government started spending billions upon billions to bail out the banks and then to rescue the economy, no day goes by without warnings of misspending in the name of the taxpayer. Reason enough for us to take a good look at this strange political figure!

1. How does the public view the taxpayer?

The taxpayer seems to be a fussy guy who holds a type of audit and can’t stand it when the politicians are not dealing correctly with the billions they approve for themselves. In any case, the politicians make every effort to demonstrate the extent to which they are responsible to this taxpayer figure and how, when spending money, they take his possible objections and concerns into account. The politicians keep repeating how difficult it is to make the taxpayer understand why the bankers, of all people, have to be helped so generously with public funds. The opposition also refers to the taxpayer when it denounces the government’s crisis policy as an “irresponsible waste of the taxpayer’s money.”

For the bourgeois public, the taxpayer is the authority who demands, among other things, that state spending include a legislated debt ceiling. After all, he must also be given his due when it comes to bailing out the economy, and on two sides: first, as a major pillar of the society who deserves a break. Second, as a funder of the government. In this role, according to the public, the taxpayer has a hard time making sure that tax revenues are not thrown out the window on ridiculous projects.

2. How does the taxpayer show up in the world in practice?

First of all, paying taxes has nothing to do with a voluntary act that a person at some point decides to do. Rather, paying taxes is made compulsory by the state: the political power, with its sovereign right and without asking permission, collects a portion of monetary property from everyone who earns an income or owns assets, whether large or small. And with sales taxes, the state claims a part of the price in every purchase – whether for a meal or a car. When collecting taxes, the government does not ask whether the taxpayer can afford the compulsory charge or wants to pay it; the taxpayer has no say in determining the tax rate; freedom and responsibility to collect taxes belong solely to the political power which shapes its fiscal policies according to its own calculations. The same goes for government spending: the compulsory charges are used by the political power to finance precisely the state’s projects, which are debated in Congress by the politicians.

So there’s no way the taxpayer is someone whose demands are difficult to take into account. Rather, the taxpayer is a hopeless political figure on both sides: citizens are subject to the financial sovereignty of the state and obligated to pay, whether they like it or not. Nor do they have any say in what the state does with all the money it collects. Once it is in its treasury, it is no longer the taxpayer’s money but the state’s, and subject to its power of discretion.

3. By contrast, how does the taxpayer see himself?

People who show off their status as a taxpayer don’t want to see things in so negatively. Of course, everyone grumbles about taxes, but this is only background noise to a positive attitude toward the state. The taxpayer sees this relationship in such a way that, by fulfilling his tax obligation, he is performing a community service that deserves recognition. By ceding a piece of his own hard-earned property, he feels that he, as financier of the whole show, has an equal right with the rest of the poor and rich taxpayers. The taxpayer is free to imagine that everything ultimately depends on him in material terms. But in reality, the taxpayer merely submits to the role that has been dictated to him, of being a source of government funds. But it is precisely in this role that he wants appreciation from his rulers.

The taxpayer comes up with his own legal claim for his obligation. It goes like this: if he is paying for the state’s finances with part of his property, then he should also have the right to get something from the state in return. This is very idealistic and willfully ignorant. Because one thing is also very clear to every self-assured taxpayer: in the case of taxes, unlike private transactions between buyers and sellers, an exchange relation is nowhere to be seen. Because the question of who pays how much and the question of who benefits from government spending obviously have nothing to do with each other. And the state also emphatically excludes such a connection by law. Congress is required by Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution to pass legislation prior to the expenditure of any U.S. Treasury funds, thus explicitly prohibiting the earmarking of taxes. Nevertheless, the notion of a service and a reciprocal service persists.

4. What is accomplished by presenting oneself as a taxpayer and what criticism follows from it?

If wage earners, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, etc., do not want to know anything about their social differences and conflicts, but only speak out in their capacity as taxpayers, they have left their vile self-interest behind. It’s no longer about their situation, their livelihood, and how they make ends meet. That is decided somewhere else. With the title of “taxpayer,” they want to be recognized as equal contributors who do their part, like everyone else, in financing the society according to their abilities. As a taxpayer – according to the conceit – everyone counts for something. Each activity – regardless of whether it is hard work for a little money in order to afford one’s basic needs or a CEO salary that permits life on a grand scale – is distorted into a service to the greater whole.

The coercive regime of state taxation and fiscal policies which sets in motion all the conflicts of capitalistic competition thus appears in a thoroughly positive light as one big community. Even though this capitalist society is set up in a way that consists of nothing but opposing interests: the tenant wants to pay less rent, but maybe the landlord wants to collect as much as possible. Not much in common... The worker wants to be paid as much as possible for his labor because he has to earn his living from it. For the capitalist, on the other hand, lowering wages is a means of doing business. And this world of conflicts is now supposed to look like a communal project financed by the taxpayer? If one takes this point of view, it’s settled: one accepts that one pays taxes out of one’s meager income and that the state decides what happens with the money. And the state, which decrees the whole thing, is then only an executive organ of this communal project. The taxpayer fancies himself as a financier who has a right to see to it that the state carries this out properly. That is ultimately the quid pro quo that the taxpayer demands from the state.

The state has to prove that it is fulfilling its duty of pursuing a fiscal and budgetary policy in the public interest, that is, that it deserves the material support supplied by the taxpayer. The state must pursue a budgetary policy that serves the common good. And what is this supposed to consist of? It is supposed to not take unfair advantage of its citizens’ hard earned money, not take more from them than is absolutely necessary, and not handle this money in an “irresponsible” manner.

Measured by these standards, the taxpayer always has reasons to be discontent. The payment obligations of the taxpayer never match what he imagines he is actually entitled to from the state. Of course not – that’s not what this relationship is about. The state has its own criteria according to which it spends the money it compulsorily collects in order to help America move forward. The fact that America’s success has nothing to do with a good livelihood for the average Joe shouldn’t only be noticeable in a crisis. Long work hours, low wages, social cuts, absolute poverty, and private bankruptcies are in the news all the time.

The taxpayer likes to see this differently. By demanding tax justice, he acknowledges the state’s need for money and its sovereignty over how much money flows to where in the first place, but wants to declare that there are surely other, higher earning or less obliging figures who should be reminded of their duties. And the criticism of too much spending always finds wrong beneficiaries: in his eyes, these are the social parasites and sponges on the bigger whole to whom money is flowing unfairly. And the taxpayer is free to determine who these beneficiaries may be. For him, these can be CEOs or welfare recipients, or maybe even both.

On the other hand, there is always too little left over for services that benefit him, the good citizen. So the taxpayer clings tenaciously to the fanciful equation according to which his payment gives him a right to a fiscal policy that corresponds to his ideas. This is what he thinks, even though he also knows the state does not ask its citizens how taxes should be taken or how these funds should be spent. There’s only one criticism left: in his ideal role as the fair tax collector and distributor of government largesse, the taxpayer resents everyone he suspects of undeserved enrichment from his money. That is, pretty much everyone. This is how he becomes critical of the state, which is always sinning against the standards he imposes on it – in his imagination.

5. What is the attitude of the politicians toward this taxpayer who criticizes the politicians from the standpoint of the imaginary fair distributor?

The politicians have nothing in principle against this type of criticism. On the contrary, they supply it with ammunition all the time. Politicians have a sure sense for which criticisms they must reject and which criticisms they can use for their own concerns. Criticism from the standpoint of the taxpayer always belongs to the latter category. This is when people get angry from a point of view that approves in principle of everything the state power does, as well as its financing methods. Intellectually, these people devote themselves to the question of how far they themselves, as important material pillars of this beautiful society, are not doing too badly. Politicians are happy to serve this point of view – namely, by constantly talking about the taxpayer figure in order to agree with him.

The taxpayer is suitable as a universal title of appeal. Everything that the politicians do and plan to do anyway, they explain and justify by saying that they do not want to and won’t misuse the taxpayer’s money in the process. And they count on the fact that the things they plan on doing will thereby gain acceptance. Politicians style themselves supreme representatives of justice and thrift who always strive to promote these principles even under the most adverse circumstances, such as a crisis. And if it need be, the politicians can earn the trust of the taxpayers with real material benefits. In order to make it clear beyond doubt that the billions for the banks are proper from every aspect of justice and responsibility, they require that the bankers limit their compensation. This much consideration for the people’s sense of justice is needed …

So what happens when you speak out as a taxpayer?

The taxpayer transforms the fact that he is being compulsorily deprived of money into his own contribution to a common whole which entitles him to recognition and consideration. From this point of view, he grumbles about the other taxpayers as unjustified beneficiaries and about the state as an unfair distributor. And what does he get out of it? The state and the politicians use the money for America’s advancement and the people are further impoverished for it. As a reward for the taxpayer’s servile “yes” to the state’s sovereignty over the collection and spending of the compulsory levies, the taxpayer gets assured by the politicians that it is really not easy for them, that they will take his demands for fairness and responsibility into consideration, and that means it’s only right that the politicians have sovereignty over everything. So the taxpayer gets a lot of recognition – and the impoverishment continues – in the name of the taxpayer.

This is really not something to stand up for.