How do you explain taxes to a three-year-old? I was leaving the house one day last week to pick up the completed tax return from our preparer. Cooper, our grandson, asked where I was going. When I told him, I could tell that the idea ‘taxes” was not on his radar. I started to tell him that taxes help pay for the fire fighters and police officers (but they are only indirectly funded by Federal tax money). I did tell him that the money we paid to the government helps build our roads. I suppose I could have told him that the money helped to pay for our military but really did not want to go down that road too far. As I thought about this later, I could have explained that our taxes (at least for now) help people who are sick and do not have food.
This whole train of thought led me to think about the things that our tax money pays for that were provided in other ways in the past. When people were less mobile, more connected to their neighbors, and involved in the local churches, many of the needs for food, clothing and even medical assistance were provided by churches and church members. There was a community awareness and a commitment to those we knew that motivated us to reach out and help.
We no longer live in such times. Class and economic divisions isolate us from one another. Those of us who live in “good” neighborhoods don’t know our neighbors much less those who live in “less desirable” areas. Churches do help people in need but it is often one step removed from the congregants and provided through professionals or social service organizations. There are exceptions, of course, but there is a real divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” not only on the national but the local level.
Churches and not-for-profits can help to bridge some of this gap, but the situation has become so complex that state and national governments must play a role. There are some politicians who seem to think that we still live in a “Main Street USA” world where churches do all the heavy lifting to help the needy, therefore they believe that programs that address hunger, homelessness, and medical needs are none of the government’s business. Welcome to the real world, folks! I am not overjoyed about paying taxes, but I do it because there are some things that I cannot address with my resources and that can only be addressed on the macro level.
I pay my taxes, attempt to alleviate need on the local level, and support organizations that do the same. Now I expect my political leaders to be good stewards of the funds I send to them. Is that asking too much?
The moral of the story is this: When you try to explain something to a three-year-old, be prepared to engage in some real serious thinking.