Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Americans are Happy to Pay Taxes

My topic on WKYB this morning.

One of the big books of popular social science this year will be Vanessa Williamson's Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes. She found that "being a taxpayer" is an important part of the identity of most Americans. Two interviews with her, explaining her findings, are here and here.

I would add that our sense of legitimacy of American democracy comes from the feeling that we all pay our bit.  This gives us a voice in what our government does, just as much as voting does.  Indeed, since many more people pay taxes than vote, our sense of democratic legitimacy comes more from being taxpayers than being voters.

What Williamson found is that the great majority of Americans are proud to pay taxes.  What makes them mad is if they think other people are not paying their fair share of taxes, especially if they pay no taxes at all.  This ire is directed at rich people and corporations first, and also, in some sectors, at illegal immigrants.  But there are also widespread misconceptions about who pays taxes, and for what.  We remember the income tax due to the hassle of filing, but forget the sales tax because, except for the poorest people, we don't think about is when we pay it.

While everyone pays taxes, groups differ in how many people they believe pay taxes.  The people who are maddest about our current tax system think, on average, that only 66% of people in this country pay taxes - including themselves.  On the other hand, the people who are least mad about our tax system think that the proportion of taxpayers is above 80%.

Paying taxes is a meaningful activity, which joins us with others in serving a cause larger than ourselves.  This is one of the key components of happiness.


Gary said...

Dr..... I meant to mention this morning, the title of the book you presented, is " Proud" rather than " Happy " to pay taxes.
I am a proud American eager to contribute to the betterment of our country and community. However, I am not happy paying a large amount of tax to enterprises lacking prudence. My view has been ( I've taught this to my kids and grandchildren) make as money as you can; save some, spend some and give some of it away.
Thanks, Gary

Gruntled said...

Yes, the distinction between "proud" and "happy" is important here. Vanessa Williamson, the author of the book agrees with you - it is easy to find Americans who are proud to pay taxes.

I am extending the idea, because contributing to a greater good helps make us happy. Paying taxes does that - if, as you say, the government spends it prudently. I would also add, as Williamson does, and that all contribute fairly, especially the richest.

The argument about whether the government spends prudently is a different, and deeper, argument - some of which she addresses.

Gary said...

Well, I agree, taxation should be fair across the economy. Do you support reforming the " tax code " ?

Thanks. Gary

Mac said...

As you say, everyone pays sales tax. Why not have a minimum income tax, say $20, that every single citizen has to pay. That way, they have some skin in the game. It is the folks who pay no federal income tax, but who suckle at the federal teat that is offensive. If your premise is correct, then surely there would be no objection.

Keep all the other schedules, exemptions, and deductions if you want to, but everyone should have the obligation of "contributing to a greater good [to] help[] make them] happy."