There’s a whole lot of screaming going on about taxes, as one would expect as the federal and state deadline looms at midnight tonight. But somewhere in the screaming, we seem to be missing the larger point of a common good. Whether you think government is too big or too small, or whether taxes are too high or too low (or both, depending on the bracket involved), there needs to be at least some acknowledgement of why we pay them at all. Then we can discuss how much should be paid.
The stories we tell about tax day reflect a chronic disconnection from our role as citizens; they are devoid of civic meaning. Taxes pay for the things that underpin our public life and connect us to one another through our communities, our states and our country. When we lose sight of this, taxes are seen as merely depriving us of our individual property. If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as stewards of a common good, as citizen managers of public systems and structures that secure the city, state and country we live in, then taxes are our contribution to something important and bigger than we are.