Thursday, 08 December 2011

Taxes and governmental powers: what are they for? When I dropped out of school and went into ‘the world of work’, as it used to be called, I remember being disturbed by the fact that the education system left me utterly ignorant of what government and local government do, and what taxation is for. It looks like things have got little better, in spite of the introduction of citizenship to the curriculum. Yup, it’s time for a bit of seasonal gloom, with the British Social Attitudes report published today and plenty of publicity given to this statistic: The proportion who think we should pay (more) taxes to improve health and education and social benefits is only 30% in England, 40% in Scotland. A decade ago it was 60% in both nations. (BBC) Like a separating galaxy, it looks like we are moving at speed away from the traditional civilising notion of the ‘common weal’. (In case you missed it, here’s the link to requirements for people who don’t want to pay taxes). Do people who think like this imagine, for instance, that business could function without publicly maintained roads and systematically tested vehicles, or a managed wider economy? Or that the police could maintain order without some sort of funding; or that the food and water they consume could be guaranteed to be hygienic without public agencies? Perhaps it does not occur to them? Ah wait, perhaps what really bugs them is that poverty is self-imposed, not structural: 63% believed parents who don't want to work were to blame for children living in poverty. I suggest you blink hard, and re-read that figure: almost two thirds. According to Mark Easton on the BBC site today, the UK ‘has long been the most judgmental of the needy in Europe.’ In a way, that’s a relief; but yes we do seem determined, disastrously, to become more and more like the US. Income inequality is increasing, with a government apparently comfortable with polarisation. And we seem to be a bit angry too. Dark age ahead, as Jane Jacobs warned. Jane listed five pillars of culture including ‘taxes and governmental powers that are directly in touch with needs and possibilities’. But civilisation will pay a heavy price if too few citizens really appreciate what they’re for.

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