Taxes aren't all bad, but what are they good for? -

Taxes aren’t all bad, but what are they good for?

Raise taxes to what end?


Devon Black, while noting the comments of Thomas Mulcair, makes the entirely valid argument that taxes serve a purpose.

We ought to look skeptically at politicians who run for office while making claims that government is the problem and we’d all be better off with lower taxes and less regulation. That reasoning is attractive on the surface, but even a moment’s consideration should give us pause. Paying a few dollars less in income tax might be nice, but we can’t buy clean water or effective electrical grids on our own.

See also this 2009 column from Andrew Potter on “Tax Freedom Day.”

As philosophy this is fine, but putting it into practice requires convincing voters that more of their tax dollars are required for the purposes of doing something (and perhaps, as part of that, that the government is capable of accomplishing that something). That’s the real trick.


Taxes aren’t all bad, but what are they good for?

  1. I’ve long believed that an ambitious, long term infrastructure renewal program is (to use Harper’s term) a “no brainer” that would get traction across a wide swath of the political spectrum and be deemed a worthy investment of dedicated tax dollars. It would create employment, contribute to healthier, safer communities (e.g., municipal water systems) and, targeted strategically, expedite industry and commerce (e.g., bridges, highways, public transit).

    • Or .. we could call something “stimulus” and shovel
      EAP funding at rowing clubs, curling rinks, main street
      trees and shrubs. What makes more sense,eh?

      • …not to mention gazebos.

        Those types of political handouts and boutique projects are precisely why I think the taxes harvested for infrastructure renewal should be targeted strategically toward community health & safety, transportation, and other “bread-and-butter” civil engineering projects, for lack of a better term. Once we wander off into recreation, tourism, arts & culture, local beautification, etc., though arguably worthy on their own merits, I suspect taxpayer commitment wanes considerably and projects become controversial (and politicized).

        Having said that, I’m not sure who would develop selection criteria and who, other than a partisan government of one stripe or another, should allocate the funds.

        • You forgot snowmobile clubs. Don’t ever forget the all-powerful Quebec Snowmobile mafia vote.

          • Doh…

      • You forgot snowmobile clubs. Unfortunately this niche spending is very attractive if you happen to be the one getting it. Which is why govt’s do it i suppose. Good job the Harper boys are fixin’ all that Liberal vote buyin’ stuff once and for all. I’m still waiting for my small boat owner on vacation subsidy. It’s in the mail i bet. It’ll probably arrive around the same time i purchase a CPC membership card.

  2. All public services should be publically funded, regulated and run by people who know what they’re doing. This would include infrastructure, and would routinely provide jobs.

    Universal health, universal education.

  3. One of the purposes of taxation is to level the economic playing field so that all segments of society share in wealth creation (GDP growth) and productivity gains (machines and energy doing more of the heavy lifting.)

    In a right-wing free-market economy, the wealthy end up hogging up most of the economic resources putting them to waste. The purpose of economics is to allocate resources so they are put to best use.

    Clearly the economy was more stable and prosperous in the centrist post-war era — when modern living standards were created — compared to the past 30-year “age of greed”. The recent free-market era produced towering levels of inequality and debt (public and private) and culminated in a global economic meltdown.

    First free-market ideologues say their doctrine will “create jobs.” Next they are telling people to suck it up and learn to live on a lot less in a plutocratic tyranny.

    • “Clearly the economy was more stable and prosperous in the centrist post-war era — when modern living standards were created — compared to the past 30-year “age of greed”. The recent free-market era produced towering levels of inequality and debt (public and private) and culminated in a global economic meltdown.”
      You’re confusing causation and correlation. There are lots of things that might have “produced”, or combined to “produce”, these towering levels of inequality that you mention. Many people chalk a lot of it up to technology and the globalizing effects of the spread of that technology, for instance. That has little or nothing to do with taxation or levels of taxation.

      • “You’re confusing causation and correlation.”

        Yeah and scientists are confusing causation and correlation when they say global warming is caused by human industrial activity. It’s really just a coincidence that CO2 levels are higher now than they’ve been in over two million years!

        Please spare me the weasel-worded rhetoric.

        Free-market economics caused towering levels of inequality twice: in the periods leading up to the 1929 and 2008 global economic meltdowns.

        The Keynesian mixed-market system moderated levels of inequality and created modern living standards in the post-war era — which were unprecedented in human history.

        I’ll take facts over lame excuses for colossal failures.

        • I think you’re being awfully sweeping in your statements. I still think it’s grossly simplistic to sugggest that taxation levels are somehow the sole cause of income inequality. And where are you talking — nationally? OECD? The entire planet? The issue is far more complex than you suggest. Besides which, you’ve already shifted the goalposts from the original point of disussion by now suggesting that the cause is “free-market economics”, which is an incredibly broad and potentially amorphous term.
          Unless you’re actually willing to talk specifics, your post is so vague and generalistic as to be virtually meaningless, except as a form of rant.

          • You’re the king of meaningless rants… If you’re ignorant of what free market ideology is, that’s not my problem. Try googling it…

          • If you read the economic and related literature on the topic of income inequality and the plight of the North American middle class — and I mean the halfway responsible stuff, not the crap — one of the biggest factors that is cited is the changes in our labour market, which have little or nothing to do with taxation levels or “free market ideology”. A lot of it is linked to technological change affecting the labour market, basically the march of time. The research shows that the biggest roadkill victims in today’s economy are males with no high school or post-secondary education. 50 years ago, there were lots of jobs for people like that shovelling slag in steel mills, attaching rivets to machines in factories and so on. A lot of those jobs were unionized, and so a male with no high school or post-sec education could actually enjoy a reasonably prosperous middle class existence. Today, many or most of those jobs in North America are gone or seriously threatened. There is virtually nothing in the way of changes to our tax system that can reverse that. Some people on the left think that we can somehow “fix” this by protectionism, but that’s not a solution IMO. If you’ve got a specific solution to this problem — other than some vague, sweeping statement about the evils of “free markets” — I’d be interested in hearing about it. To me, the one thing that the evidence shows is that you need to acquire skills to thrive in today’s labour market. And to me, this is a product of technological and historical change, and not a result of the evil designs of right-wing puppetmasters.

  4. Odd that Black talks about the electricity grid when he speaks on the benefits of taxation. The electricity grid is not paid for through taxes; it is paid for through electricity bills. It is a direct user fee, not really much different from any other service you might buy. In many parts of Canada it isn’t even owned or maintained by the government. So it is a pretty poor example of the benefits of taxation and public ownership.

  5. “You know, there’s two schools in economics on this. One is that there are some good taxes and the other is that no taxes are good taxes. I’m in the latter category. I don’t believe that any taxes are good taxes.”

    — Some shameless politician who claims to be an “economist”

    • And he was even wrong about the number of economic “schools” with respect to taxes.

      There’s actually a third school, which “[doesn’t] believe that any taxes are good taxes”, but uses them anyway in the excessive production of self-serving propaganda like the EAP, for rewarding his cronies with cushy government sinecures, and for good ol’ fashioned pork-barreling.

      And that’s the “category” he’s actually in.

  6. Ah, if only we could even have such a level-headed and honest conversation. For most of my lifetime we have decided we are comfortable with SPENDING that far exceeds our TAXES, year after year after year.

    So the brain-dead argument keeps winning: just look at all the benefits we obtain from government at so little cost to us, so we must therefore have more and more of it.

    • Well Martin produced years of surpluses….and Harper blew them.