What your tax money gets you

You work hard to earn your money, and with the money you earn, you purchase what you want and what you need. I think we can agree that this is how the system works – that is – if you are fortunate enough to be able-bodied, able-minded, and educated. For example, you pay rent and in exchange you get a place to live; you pay grocery money, and in exchange you have food to eat; you buy clothes and… you get the picture.

And you pay taxes.

And what do you get for your taxes? You get an armed force to defend your borders and coasts. You get health care. You get roads to travel on. You get a government bureaucracy to oversee all this.

And every kid gets education.

It is very important to you that education is paid for through taxes, because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to afford it. Or rather, most people wouldn’t be able to afford it. Education-for-all children is only sustainable because everyone pays taxes – not just the people who have children in schools. The reason Canada has this system is because we recognize that it is good for the country to have well-educated citizens, and it is the decent thing to do to provide people with an education – so decent a thing, that it is viewed by most people as a basic human right. We could privatize education (and other public services), but that would unquestionably ensure that those who have the most money would get their kids the best education. In Canada, we think every kid should have the same chance.

I write this because there are many people who seem to think that taxes are a bad thing. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In Norway, the tax rate as a percentage of GDP is more than 10% higher than in Canada, and yet the Median Household income is about $18000 per year higher than in Canada. What this means is that through taxation and public spending, Norway distributes wealth more evenly, with more service being publicly funded.

In North America we have bought into the myth that there’s some qualitative difference between what the private sector produces and what the public sector produces. In other words, we view teachers salaries as a waste of tax dollars, but we are content to let bank executives make millions. The money made by bank executives is every bit as much your money as your tax dollars are. The “tax” that pays them is banking fees, interest charges and the investment income they get from the money you spend on goods and services.

And before you accuse me of cherry picking data (a favourite accusation of people who haven’t done their homework), I submit that Norway is an apt comparison to Canada. Both our economies are based on massive natural resource reserves, and our GDP per capita is comparable.

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