Why Do You Feel Broke? Hint: It’s Not Taxes

The other day, on my way to work, I listened to a podcast rant about the 99 percent and the Citizens United decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

You know the deal, right? The 2010 decision held money to be free speech, which is how the Supreme Court kicked open the door to unlimited spending by corporate-funded interest groups. The decision is offensive and laughable, but mostly it’s ironic, in the sense that it purports to uphold our cherished First Amendment when in fact everyone knows that it OK’s corruption on a grand scale and undermines our democracy.

The rant, by a guest on the hilarious and thoughtful WTF with Marc Maron (probably my favorite podcast at the moment), had a kicker that seemed clever until it stopped me in my tracks: If money is free speech, then all of us in the 99 percent are speechless… and that’s what we should all say to the IRS on April 15.

Wait. Put the brakes on! Screech!

Why… as a nation… do we still think that we feel broke because we pay taxes?

Taxes… I’m not kidding… do nothing but enrich us!

Taxes give us great value. Government spending is the one place where we enjoy the ability to truly purchase top-quality goods and services in bulk, which is how we buy air traffic control systems and a justice department and highways and bridges and education so cheaply. Just imagine if you had to buy all that as an individual. Right? Only the 1 percent would be able to afford any of that.

The truth is simple. Each dollar we pay in taxes returns to us time and again, and the best part is that the value comes to us when we want it or need it—when we want to borrow a book from the library, or when in a panic we dial 9-1-1 for the police or the fire department… when we file for unemployment because we lost a job….

I’ve heard people complain about moving up a tax bracket, because it means more dollars would go to the Internal Revenue Service. Make sense? No! We should be grateful we moved up a tax bracket! That means we’re making more money! And we when we make more money, we have more money!

And that brings me back to the comedian on WTF….

We feel broke not because we pay taxes but because we, collectively, haven’t had a raise in years.

Or worse.

I don’t know about your job, but I know an awful lot of people who have taken it in the teeth—with lay offs or pay cuts or furloughs or other financial punishment over the past decade, and especially since the beginning of the Great Recession. The national numbers are startling, but honestly this is one of those times when almost everybody’s anecdotal evidence matches the broader trend.

It’s time for us to demand fair pay for the work we do, especially because the Great Recession has been a fantastic bonanza for America’s wealthiest.

The Occupy movement and all the talk of the 99 percent is great. It’s been a breath of fresh air for someone to make a sustained racket for the 99 percent.

Take a moment to understand why you feel so broke…. And then let’s lift our basic rhetoric to the next level. Demand a raise from the employer who has used you to become the 1 percent. Let’s leave them speechless.


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February 5, 2012 · 10:13 am

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