I am a citizen, and a taxpayer. I pay taxes to be sure, but I am a citizen first.
I take issue with framing everyone as a taxpayer. It is problematic. And, it’s no accident. The emergence of the “taxpayer” as the higher order of individual – elevated above the citizen – is a clever and well-thought out neo-liberal strategy. Here's why: Neo-liberalism has managed to convince many of us that taxes are an ailment, and tax cuts a remedy. We are told that tax cuts will generate economic growth, but there is no substantiated correlation.
So how did we get here? It appears people don’t vote based on facts; we vote based on values. During an election we are bombarded by political rhetoric that resonates with the worldview of certain individuals. Neo-Liberalism spreads a belief that only self-discipline and hard work can lead to success; that our very well-being hinges upon stopping the so-called gravy train, cutting government over-spending and letting the invisible hand of the market propel us to a more prosperous future. Sound familiar?
So much for what tax cuts won’t do – here is what they do. Tax cuts have eroded democracy and made us a less kind and more unequal society. Our transition from citizens to taxpayers has reinforced and deepened the divide between people of different economic means. We have become more mistrusting of one another. The super wealthy feel entitled and above tax laws. People living in poverty see a system that is rigged against them and disengage from politics. The relentlessly squeezed middle is living from paycheque to paycheque. This fatalistic, downward spiral without hope and imagination is a cycle that can be broken.
Think for a moment about what could happen if we consolidated the voting power of the middle and low-income earners and took a stand against multinationals and the very wealthy to ensure they pay their share of taxes. Make them behave like corporate citizens, not corporate taxpayers.
Here's an example: why should a famous Canadian T-shirt Company, and one of the largest clothing manufacturers in the world, who earned $144 million CAD in 2011, not pay a dime in taxes thanks to tax loopholes that allow companies to deduct profits they make offshore from their Canadian corporate taxes? Why should that approximately $41 million CAD be uncaptured revenue for Canadians? Meanwhile, everyone else pays a disproportionate share of taxes compared to our wealthier counterparts. Minimum wage and social assistance rates remain woefully inadequate and Canada’s social programs and environment are further eroded because we apparently can’t afford to invest in our people, or our future.
Canada has untold financial resources just waiting to be harnessed. A resource that if collected through tax reforms could be enough to lift everyone out of poverty, protect from further erosion of the middle class and allow us to make investments in our environment.
Sounds like a plan to me.
Rhonda Barron is a health promoter in Fort Erie, Ontario. This editorial first appeared in the Fort Erie Times.