My father seemed to know everything. He loved to explain things, and inconspicuous questions often triggered elaborate lectures. So one day, when I was maybe eight or nine years old, I asked him about taxes, and he started to talk.
I clearly remember the visceral reaction I had to this lecture. Most times I would get bored after a few minutes talking, but this time was different. I was outraged by the things I learned. When you earn money, my dad explained, you need to pay income tax. I couldn’t believe it. How deeply unjust this seemed. You earn money, and then they take it away from you! But the lecture didn’t end there. He continued to explain the Austrian V.A.T. (sales tax). So any time you buy something, you have to pay another 20%, after you already paid income tax. This was going from bad to worse. I couldn’t believe what a world we lived in.
My father tried to explain the purpose of taxes, but it took some time before I understood.
Today, I’m happy to pay taxes.
We have a very high standard of living in Austria. Our roads are well maintained and safe. Electricity, water and gas are highly reliable. In a medical emergency, an ambulance or a helicopter arrives within 15 minutes to take you to a well equipped hospital. Crime rates are low. There are very few homeless people, and we have shelters for most of them. Public schools are so good that only the most uptight conservatives feel the need to send their offspring to a private school.
All this is very expensive. We can afford it because we all pitch in and contribute. We pay income tax, capital gains tax, we have mandatory health insurance and unemployment insurance, value added tax, and so on. It’s a significant chunk of our income that we have to give away.
So naturally, a lot of people are complaining that we are paying too much taxes. Many people say that taxes should be lowered. Working more should pay off more. We should be able to spend our hard earned money ourselves. It seems that many of us still feel the outrage I felt as a kid, and never learned to appreciate the good things that our taxes make possible.
Of course, some of our tax money is spent in questionable ways. Why Austria needs to spend billions on fighter jets to guard our tiny air space is beyond me. Others worry that we spend too much money on refugees, or that the public sector pays too much for employees that work too little. There is also some level of fraud and corruption everywhere, ranging from individuals lying on their tax forms to politicians pocketing millions from public funds.
However, that is no excuse not to pay taxes, and it’s not a reason that taxes should be lowered. Sure, the system is imperfect, but destroying it would make it worse. We can’t have all the good things without paying taxes.
If you are unhappy with the ways our money is spent, please do something! If you think too much of our money is spent on the wrong things, complain about it! Petition your local government, write to the ministry, start a movement!
But don’t ask for lower taxes. Lowering taxes will not prevent the bad things. We’d lose the good things first.