Day 102: Tax freedom day.Posted: April 12, 2011
An interesting concept: assuming that 29% of your income goes to the government as income tax, everything you’ve earned until today hasn’t belonged to you, and everything you earn from today forward is yours! Yours to spend on bills and more bills and some other bills and groceries and gas and whatever else you have to spend your money on – “yours” in the sense that you get to give it to entities other than the government.
Honestly, though, I wouldn’t mind paying taxes – which is easy for me to say, considering I’m one of those people who not only doesn’t pay taxes, but gets money back at tax time – poor grad student, two kids, all that – I say, I wouldn’t mind paying taxes if the government would spend the tax money it collects in a responsible and efficient way. The government’s a bureaucracy, though, and it is in the nature of bureaucracies to be inefficient; inefficiency is, indeed, one of the few essential characteristics of a bureaucracy.
That’s not to say that I hate the people who work in one bureaucratic institution or another; on the contrary, I’m sure many people who work in bureaucracies are decent enough. No, what I hate is the system itself, the structure, bureaucracy qua bureaucracy.
In a bureaucracy, individuals cease to be individuals; they cease, even, as far as the system is concerned, to be people. They are parts of the machine.
That is, perhaps, a somewhat unsophisticated way of thinking about the problem. The case may be, rather, that a bureaucratic system allows individuals to renounce their humanity, at least in a limited way, within the system: the bureaucracy allows the individual workers to think of themselves as small cogs in a giant, incomprehensible machine, which allows them to abdicate responsibility.
That is, I think, the crux of the problem: no one person, no group of people, even, within a bureaucracy, is responsible for whatever callous or cruel or destructive or evil things the bureaucracy as a whole, as a system, perpetrates. This is true of small, simply-structured bureaucracies and complex, sprawling, unmappable ones; of homeowner’s associations and city councils and multinational corporations and federal governments.
We can say that BP is responsible for the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and the resultant environmental catastrophe, but we cannot also say that the employees of BP are collectively also responsible; we can perhaps scapegoat a few executives, which serves to distract us all from the fact that this (and many others) disaster was made possible, at least in part, by vast numbers of people – BP employees, BP customers, people who use gasoline or benefit from someone else’s use of gasoline – all of us, in short – abdicating very small amounts of responsibility on a more or less daily basis.
Bureaucracy is a disease, a cancer; the evils that are usually attributed to capitalism or socialism or communism or liberalism or conservatism or terrorism or whatever-ism are all, I think, actually attributable to bureaucracy working under those various guises.
It’s like kudzu, though, bureaucracy is, or like the common cold: ineradicable, unstoppable, inevitable. Nothing we can do will stop its steady advance; though we might win a skirmish here or there, temporarily, provisionally, any bulwarks we establish – any hills we think we’ve taken – will soon be overrun, and our lifeless bodies will be swept away in a tide of unnecessary paperwork and endless meetings.
Best just to take off and nuke the whole thing from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.