Of Course We Can Afford it! We Already Pay for It!

Whenever Americans talk about the major societal overhaul this country needs, the most common refrain heard by the self-appointed “fiscally responsible” people in this country is, “How are we going to pay for it?”

It sounds like a really responsible and very intelligent question, right? Only it’s not. It’s the result of brainwashing in a system that true progressives have largely ceded to the Republican Party for a generation. In many cases, we’re talking about a more efficient way of providing opportunity for people, investing in the future and making for a better nation. In most cases, we’re already paying for it in the first place.

There’s a funny thing that happens when you talk about taxes to a great many Americans; the only ones they freak out about are those charged by “the government.” They’ll happily pay an extra $5-50 to an agency for the privilege of buying a ticket to an event, but raise their property taxes by $50 a year to pay for schools and they freak out. Likewise, our children are graduating from college with anywhere from $50,000-100,000 in debt, but when a Democratic presidential candidate mentions free tuition at public colleges and universities, and the first “responsible” question is;

“How are we going to pay for it?”

How is that a serious question? It seems to me we’re already paying for it. Got it? We’re already paying for everything that we should be doing for each other, but we’re not investing in anything. In the debate last week, Sanders and Clinton both mentioned Denmark as a great example of what can happen when a country really wants to invest in its people, and Clinton reflexively responded, “We’re not Denmark.”

Now, I don’t blame her for that. It’s part of the conditioning that we all have to deal with. After nearly 40 years of Republican training, we have all, as a nation, been trained to react to the potential of raising taxes with abject horror, without thinking about the fact that paying more in taxes could potentially save us a lot of money in the long run. Think about it:

  • When it comes to free or heavily subsidized college tuitions, which makes more sense? To force millions of graduates to pony up $1.3 trillion in crippling debt, or to take an extra 1-2 percent from those whose income is in the seven- or eight-figure range, especially since they will likely benefit the most from those degrees? People with the means to do so are putting away 5 percent or more of their pay into a fund to help defray the costs of their kids’ eventual college costs, even though there is no way to predict future costs these days. Isn’t that paying for college? We’re not talking about paying for something we don’t already pay for, we’re talking about shifting the burden of that cost.
  • When it comes to healthcare, we spend more than every other country in the nation by a wide margin, and our outcomes are not as good, primarily because we treat health as a consumer product. Instead of paying $1400-1500 for a family insurance premium, wouldn’t it make more sense to pay more in taxes, based on our incomes, regulate payments and profits to a greater degree and make healthcare a right? Again, we already pay too much for healthcare; we need to shift the burden and reduce costs.
  • When it comes to working for a living, we have to provide our own transportation and we have to pay the full amount for someone to watch our kids, which can run into hundreds of dollars per week. Wouldn’t it make more sense for all of us to subsidize that cost to a significant degree, so that people can work for a living and contribute more to society? Sure, it might costs some who make seven- or eight-figure incomes another percent, but imagine how much more productive we would be? Comprehensive public transportation and child care, at a cost based on ability to pay, would just shift the costs a little to benefit everyone.
  • We would also be more productive if workers weren’t making too little money to live on and working without a rest. It’s a funny thing; almost every other advanced country in the world has a minimum wage that is roughly twice ours, and they also mandate several weeks of vacation and sick time per year for every worker, in addition to requiring all employers to provide workers family and medical leave, not just when they have a baby, but also when they have a medical emergency.
  • And as proud as we are of Social Security in this country, it’s nothing compared to retirees in Denmark (and most of Europe). In return for their contributions to Danish society through their lives, once they retire (currently at age 65, with an increase to 67 in 2025 and thereafter at an age indexed to life expectancy), most of them receive 95 percent of their pre-retirement salary for the rest of their lives.

As Hillary said, we’re not Denmark. Denmark does almost all of these things, as do most countries in Europe. And I won’t deny that they pay more in taxes to the government; about double what we do now, but do they pay more in taxes, really? I mean, Denmark pays about 50 percent of their national income in taxes to the government, whereas people in the United States only pay about 25 percent, but look at everything Americans have to pay for just to survive.

How many parents in this country feel it necessary to place their kids in an expensive private school because the Republican-led government keeps starving the local public school? Those can run thousands per year; certainly a hell of a lot more than if we just paid more in taxes.

How many people are paying upwards of $1,000 per month for their health insurance (including their employer’s contribution), in addition to putting a few hundred a month away in a “Health Savings Account” to pay for things that $1,000 per month policy doesn’t pay for? How is having to pay for health insurance not a tax of sorts, anyway? Just because it doesn’t go to the government doesn’t mean you don’t need it to survive.

How many people are putting 5-10 percent of their salaries away for their retirement, so they don’t have to depend solely on Social Security, and another 3-5 percent for their kids’ college fund every single month? How is that not a “tax,” in a way?

And again; how many college graduates are being forced to carry around crippling debt at the beginning of their career as a productive member of society? I mean, we have the government cutting funds to universities and colleges and forcing them to raise tuition because they claim they can’t collect enough in taxes, and we have greater demand than ever for an educated populace, but we force our kids to take on ridiculous amounts of debt in order to pay for the privilege of qualifying to work. In what way is that not a tax?

Think about it; if your tax bill from every paycheck was increased by another 10-15 percent, but it eliminated the need for a health savings account or a college fund, and it reduced your health insurance bill by half, and it either reduced or eliminated the cost of child care, and it reduced or eliminated your need to plan for retirement, you would probably see a significant savings overall.

The thing is, we already pay for everything that Denmark pays for; we just don’t spread the cost among the entire society, which actually makes a lot more sense, anyway. It’s not just the individual who benefits from these things; we all benefit from all medical bills being paid and from a highly educated and skilled workforce. That includes millionaires and billionaires who get huge tax breaks for doing nothing.

If you add up everything you have to save in order to pay for things other countries pay for with taxes, you’ll find that you’re probably paying a lot more in “taxes” than the average Dane. You’re just not paying it all to the government.

“How do we pay for it?” is a stupid question. We already do. The smart question is, “How do we pay for it smarter and more efficiently?”

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