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COLUMN

Please, Take My Money!

Daniel Ratner

It's April 15, tax day. Time to step up to the plate and cough up your hard-earned share of the GDP to the federal, state and local government -- unless of course you’re a multinational corporation headquartered somewhere in Bermuda. Each year I look forward to this opportunity to make my contribution towards some very worthy causes: social security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, our roads, the NSF, NIH and NASA, to name just a few. On the flip-side, I must also contribute to projects that I don’t particularly appreciate; national missile defense and the Big Dig come to mind. But I have faith that the good outweighs the bad, and I am happy to give back to the society from which I have taken so much.

Call me crazy. Call me naÏve. Call me a tax-and-spend bleeding-heart liberal. Call me what you will, but I love taxes. Perhaps I should preface my thoughts with the following disclaimer: I have no formal training in economics, I am not course 14 or 15, I have never taken a class in micro- or macroeconomics, and the only economics book I have read was written by P.J. O’Rourke.

I believe in the potential afforded by pooling public resources for the betterment of one’s country and world. Many of the greatest accomplishments in this nation’s history, from the defeat of Nazism to landing a man on the moon, could only have come from a nationwide effort, paid for by our taxes. These, as with most great accomplishments, required, and continue to require, a contribution by all.

I would gladly assume a higher burden in taxes, as long as we, as a society, can agree that some causes are worth the collective sacrifice. I would submit to increasing taxes if it would help some of the 40-60 million uninsured Americans receive health coverage. This is not purely altruistic; a country with adequate health coverage for all is better able to combat the threat posed by emerging infectious diseases, including SARS. Similarly, if doubling or tripling the budget of the NSF and NIH required me to live by simpler means, so be it. I wish more tax dollars could be spent addressing multi-drug resistant strains of bacteria and adequately funding the Nunn-Lugar proposal to secure fissile material from porous Russian stockpiles. Perhaps we could also provide for security and reconstruction in Afghanistan, a hole left in the President’s proposed budget that could all too easily be filled by Al Qaeda.

The President (MBA, Harvard 1975) is calling for a $726 billion tax cut. The House of Representatives recently passed $550 billion worth of cuts, while the Senate -- a voice of “restraint” -- is proposing to reduce the total cost to a mere $350 billion. All this at a time when the nation is engaged in a war of liberation/occupation/rebuilding in Iraq, fighting a global effort against terrorism, experiencing rising costs associated with domestic security, soaring federal deficits ($385 billion projected for 2004), and possibly future wars against a list of regimes targeted by hawks in the Administration. All the while, state and federal programs are being slashed left and right; including veteran benefits -- a nice “welcome home” gift to our servicewomen and men now serving abroad. And then we also have a fickle Dow and Nasdaq. Does this sound like the best time for a tax cut?

I may lack the Ivy League business credentials of the President, but I am not alone in my concern about a top-heavy tax cut at this time. Included among the voices of dissent are a slew of economists, academics, civil servants and 10 Nobel Laureates in economics. Given the slump our nation finds itself in, government spending, fiscal policy and a reassessment of priorities would be more effective than eliminating the tax on dividends for the wealthy. Some tax cuts are sorely needed, but we should reduce the tax burden on those who need it the most, the lowest 10-20%, not the top 5%. Call me a class warrior, but I believe we should help provide affordable childcare and health insurance to these same people. On this, the President and I disagree.

This tax day, I make out my check payable to the United States Treasury with the hope and knowledge that this money will do more good than harm. I may not support some policies of the current administration, domestic and foreign, but I do support the many valuable programs administered by our government. I do not want to see these programs cut in a misguided effort to jump-start the economy. Would I like more personal spending money, paid for by a tax cut? No, not right now. Some things are more important.

Daniel Ratner is a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry.