Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Raise My Taxes Please

No, I haven’t gone ‘round the bend. I guess I’m just a contrarian. Stick with me while I tell you a story.

A few years back, when my wife and I moved to the country, we had quite a shock when we checked into changing our home insurance. It was more than double what it was in the suburbs. I don’t want to go pull the records so I can be precise -- it’s the concept I want to highlight. So let’s just say it went from $500 a year to $1,000 at year, for basically the same size house. If you haven’t guessed what the big difference was, it was for fire insurance. In the ‘burbs, we had a full-fledged fire department. Out here in the sticks, we have a volunteer fire department. And no fire hydrants.

The population in the county, when we moved here, was about 10,000 people. Assuming we’re the average house (we’re not), that would be about $5,000,000 a year the insurance companies are charging the citizens of the county. I don’t begrudge them the money. I’m just throwing out some figures.

I have absolutely no idea what a fire department costs. But I can’t help but wonder what one could do with five million a year. If you could take that $500 dollars a year extra paid to the insurance company and transfer it to the county for a fire department -- would you ? I would. Especially if it meant having county water and a fire department with Emergency Medical Technicians. (We don’t have EMTs out here either.)

Somewhere back along the line, your parents, or their parents, or even their parents sat down and had these same thoughts about roads, bridges, electricity and all the other modern conveniences of life. You know, the ones we take for granted.

One of my favorite stories along these lines is the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). First, because it avoids the present day stigma of taxes and second, because it was brought about by my favorite President; Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

If you don’t know the story of the REA I encourage you to click on the link and read a little about it. The site is a little simplistic, even a little corny. But it evokes the mood that I think is so important to understand. For some serious reading on the subject, I’d steer you towards a couple of books I’ve already recommended: The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson, both by Robert Caro.

Mr. Caro has a knack for pointing out important details. For instance, before electricity, water was pumped by hand or drawn from a well. Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon. Imagine filling a bathtub. Even a small one will hold 20 gallons. If you’ve never hauled a five gallon bucket of water anywhere you need to give it a whirl. You can only haul about 4 gallons at a time (without spilling the rest and taking a bath) so you’ll have to make five trips instead of four. When you’re done, you’ll need a bath.

My point ? The next time you get in a nice, hot, luxurious shower -- remember -- paying taxes isn’t nearly as painful as we want to make it out to be. I don’t want to pay more taxes than I have to and I surely don’t want my tax dollars wasted. But paying taxes sure beats driving on muddy roads, hauling water out of a well and sending the insurance company a fat check.

Don Brown
March 20, 2007

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