Government is check on big corporations

Published 9:55 am Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In April, our thoughts turn naturally to spring — especially here in beautiful southern Ohio. Our thoughts turn also to paying our taxes.

Nobody likes to pay taxes, but it was Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. who pointed out, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

I had to pay a chunk of money to IRS this year. Living on a pension, I don’t have any business expenses or anything deductible. I guess I’ll have more taken out this year, though I hate to give my money early.

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There’s a lot of mythology about taxes. To listen to some of the politicians and the TV people — most of whom make millions — Americans are among the highest taxed people in the world.

Not true.

Only the citizens of Chile and Mexico, among the world’s industrialized countries, pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes. Americans pay an average of about 22 percent, whereas in the top paying countries, including France, Italy, and Denmark, citizens pay over 40 percent in taxes — though they pay less in health care cost because they have government-funded health care, with the profit taken out.

This being an election year, we’re going to hear a lot about taxes, some of it nonsense. Like the political operative I heard on the radio saying this election is all about whether or not the American people want big government.

Sounds like a scary thing, doesn’t it — BIG GOVERNMENT!

But what exactly is big government?

Big government is, first of all, a big military — bigger than most of the rest of the world combined. We have thousands of troops in hundreds of countries. Military spending, now at about $700 billion, has almost doubled since 2001, with $60 billion of that lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Big government is also programs like Social Security and Medicare, that have kept millions out of poverty and relatively healthy for decades.

We should be wary of politicians who want to privatize them or “fix” them. They aren’t broken. Some big-time investors just want to force people to speculate in stock instead of paying for a pension, as we now do when we pay our Social Security payroll tax or our Medicare premiums.

Public education is another aspect of big government, as our society long ago made a wise decision to get our children out of the work force and into the classrooms.

Our public schools aren’t perfect, but they have played an important part in making America the wealthy, powerful, and egalitarian nation that it is. We need to be wary of politicians who want to divert public money into private schools, through vouchers or whatever.

Children get a narrower education in private schools, and test comparisons usually show them doing less well than public ones.

And since President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, we’ve had big government making sure we don’t get rat meat in our hamburger or too much pollution in our water and air. I don’t think we want to go back to the bad old days before that.

Nobody wants a Soviet system where the government controls everything, but most of us know that when you’ve got big corporations throwing their weight around, you need big government to be a check on their power.

At essence, that’s what the American system is about, checks and balances.

One the biggest myths is that cutting taxes produces prosperity. Not so.

Remember that President Clinton engineered a slight tax increase, and that, along with stable energy prices and rising technology, saw the only time since the 1960s when all income groups actually gained.

The large Bush tax cuts of 2001 were ultimately followed by an economic downturn and the budget deficits we have now.

Meanwhile, some of the same folks who rail against big government, when it comes to the wealthy paying more taxes, are okay with government prying into our private lives by restricting our access to birth control or family planning.

Let’s hope the voters can tell who’s sincere about the role of government in our lives. Are they protecting our morals, or are they protecting their fat-cat pocketbooks?


Jack Burgess is a retired Ohio teacher and writer.