The US juror Oliver Wendell Holmes uttered the title of this post.
I’d love to hear it spoken in the next few days in Australia.
But today, when our government announced a new excise on cigarettes, the opposition has immediately labeled it a tax grab. This weekend, when the government releases the first serious attempt at long-term thinking on tax I can recall in my lifetime, expect the same reaction, namely shrill arguments that the government wants to tax us more.
Well …. d’uh. Of course it wants to tax us more. We want our government to do more stuff and someone has to pay for it. We want better roads, schools, hospitals, industry protection, defence, refugee rejection mechanisms and environmental band-aiding. We want it all and we want it to be excellent, because if our kids aren’t adept on PowerPoint when they leave school, or if we ever get stuck in a traffic jam or hospitals can’t do everything right, instantly, we feel ripped off or behind the rest of the world.
I’ve benefited from this attitude thanks to middle-class welfare I frankly did not deserve.
So it’s time for this debate to wise up.
Surely we can all make the intellectual hop to realize that taxes pay for civilization. So why can’t we also rationalise that Australia’s expectations of its government to provide more, better, services means taxes are also likely to rise? And why can’t we also realise that immediate, knee-jerk negative reactions to tax rises are ignoring the bleeding obvious.
If lower taxes are really what is needed, I am happy for the Right to propose a massive disengagement of government from service delivery and more user-pays. But frankly Australia’s Right just has no credibility on this. They’ll prop up their favorites and justify that as necessary while also talking up the wrongs of government interference in the market. Hamstrung by the Nationals, their version of the free market is a horrible compromise.
But instead of falling for the “more tax is bad” shouting that’s about to start, let’s please have a sensible debate about just how we fund the things this country wants , and whether those are the things we really need.