A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Although it’s relatively new and still not universally accepted, you don’t need a PhD in political science to understand the concept of taxation without representation. It’s quite simple, really. All you have to do is remember taxpayers are people. Yes, corporations pay taxes, but that’s a whole different bunny rabbit. Believe me; the corporate world is well represented in government circles. I’m talking about the fundamental building blocks of democracy – ordinary people. To understand taxation without representation, you find an average person, and as Deep Throat said to Woodward and Bernstein, “Follow the money.” Here’s how it works.
Jane is an ordinary person. She works for an ordinary company and earns pretty good money. She has a car, lives in a tidy one bedroom apartment and has a boyfriend named Joe. She takes the bus to work because gas and parking are expensive, and she’s trying her best to be green. Jane is not particularly political or socially active, but she votes, knows the issues, did the Find A Cure Fun Run and volunteers Thursday night at her mother’s After School Drop-in Centre. You could pass Jane on the street forty times and never know she was there. Jane pays her taxes. Actually, aside from income tax once a year and big item sales tax, Jane isn’t even aware she’s paying taxes; she just does it. It’s part of Jane’s ordinary life.
The reason Jane gives the government her money is to provide for the common good. However, should Jane desire a few things from her government — like more buses in the rain or perhaps a streetlight or two, so she doesn’t break her neck walking in the dark — chances are good she won’t get them. Why? Nobody’s on her side. If she was an endangered goat, she’d have at least twelve different environmental lobby groups working for her. If she was a rubbish disposal technician (or whatever garbage men are calling themselves these days) she’d have a powerful Public Service Union to rely on. If she were a cultural event, she could get public funding, etc. etc. Unfortunately, since Jane is none of the above, she’s on her own. Jane has been abandoned by the people who are supposed to serve her.
The bottom line is Jane can’t hurt her government and powerful activist group can. Social and political activists are no longer a bunch of like-minded citizens who have temporarily banded together to get their message out. They are now permanent. They have bricks and mortar office buildings, high octane lawyers and tons of money to throw around. They don`t necessarily buy politicians; they don`t have to. They can produce opinion polls, social and scientific research papers, press releases and enough media time to browbeat the politicos into line. Meanwhile, all Jane has at her disposal is a nasty email or telephone call. Furthermore, many activist groups are nonprofit and not only pay little or no actual tax but are also in line to receive government funding (which, by the way, is Jane’s money.)
It’s the same with Public Service Unions. Over the years, they have been able to negotiate some pretty healthy contracts with the various levels of government. In general, Public Service workers earn higher wages, receive more benefits and have better pension plans than the average private sector worker, and the gap is increasing. This is because Public Service Workers control services essential to a modern society. Even a minor disruption in garbage collection, transit service, education or health inspection can have disastrous results. Politicians know this, so it’s better to throw money at union problems than risk angering its membership. Union displeasure wields power far beyond its sheer numbers. Once again, this special interest group has a lot more influence on government than Jane does, even though Jane is paying the bill. It’s more than ironic that in many cases, Jane’s public service employees are earning more money than she is and certainly have a better pension plan.
Our democracy faces a unique situation. Ordinary people are becoming disconnected from the government that is supposed to serve them because their voices are a mere whisper compared to the noise that 24/7 special interest groups can generate. Jane’s problem is that streetlights aren’t sexy. They don’t produce headlines; social questions and moral dilemmas do. As activists push politicians further and further away from the nuts and bolts of government, ordinary people find their needs going begging. Yet they are increasingly being asked to foot the bill.
In a nutshell, representation without taxation is no different from its colonial counterpoint, taxation without representation. It just doesn’t have a revolution – yet.