Is Our Government Really The Enemy?

The Tea Party would like you to think so, but ordinary citizens would be at the mercy of corporations and other economic forces without it. On successive weeks, Democratic Perspective examined the benefits of government in our lives and what we get in return for paying our taxes.

Far from being an unwelcome intrusion in our lives, government is a positive force in many ways.

Abraham Lincoln described government in this manner: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves in their separate, and individual capacities.”

For example, government provides for the nation’s defense. It ensures that we have safe drinking water, safe food, safe transportation and clean air. Government provides public education and public safety such as fire and police protection. It constructs and maintains roads, bridges, sewers and waste disposal. It encourages and pays for medical and scientific research.

Our government even provides safety nets for the poor, the disabled and the elderly through programs such as food stamps, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

Perhaps most important, government is the one thing that stands between us and overzealous corporations.

Without the government to regulate corporations, they might have destroyed our environment long ago in search of ever larger profits. They might have clear-cut our forests, laid waste to our land and polluted our air and water. In fact, before government created the Environmental Protection Agency, chemical corporations had so polluted the Cuyahoga River that it literally burst into flames 13 times!

But are these government programs worth the price we are forced to pay in taxes?

The short answer for most people is probably not…until you need the government’s help. And almost everyone is certain to believe that their taxes are too high. But Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put things in perspective when he said, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society.” And that price is not extraordinarily high.

Contrary to what the Tea Party and others would have you believe, our total tax burden is lower as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) than all other industrialized nations – just 24 percent of GDP. By contrast, the taxes collected in Germany represent 37 percent of GDP.

To learn how the right has falsely portrayed government and taxes, listen to the complete podcasts of these two shows. Democratic Perspective also recommends Thomas Frank’s book, The Wrecking Crew, How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves and Beggared the Nation. We’ve linked Frank’s short essay by the same name which appeared in a 2008 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

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