Ever since the government mustered billions of dollars to bail out the banks, and now just to rescue the economy, not a day passes without a warning of misspending on behalf of the taxpayer. This is a good time to look more closely at this strange political figure.
1. How does the taxpayer appear in the public sphere?
The taxpayer seems to be a sensitive fellow who holds a kind of sentinel and can't stand it if the politicians do not correctly manage the billions which they treat themselves to. In any event, politicians go all out to show how much they see themselves facing this figure in responsibility and taking into account his possible objections and concerns about the money outlays. Time after time, the politicians protest how difficult it is to make plausible to the taxpayer that it is precisely the gamblers on Wall Street who must now be so lavishly helped from the state treasury; and the opposition castigates the government's crisis policy as an irresponsible squandering of the “taxpayer's money.”
The taxpayer is for the bourgeois public sphere the authority which imperiously requires, among other things, that the state's spending be provided with a statutory debt brake. It is he, in the end, who must also have his rights, somehow or other, while rescuing the economy: either as the burden bearer who deserves a break or as a financier of the state whose money should not be poured down the drain on unreasonable projects. Even from the highest office, President Obama urges the politicians to never forget, in managing the crisis, who they have to justify themselves to: the tax payer who is “being asked to foot the bill for Wall Street's mistakes.”
2. How does the taxpayer appear in practice?
Paying taxes certainly has nothing to do with “being asked,” because, in the end, it concerns an arrangement which the state power would never make dependent on the good will of its citizens. Paying taxes is made compulsory by the state: from everyone who earns an income or disposes of property, be it large or small, the political power takes a part of his money property by its sovereign right and without asking permission. In collecting taxes, the government does not ask whether the taxpayer can afford the compulsory charge, or wants to pay it; the taxed citizen has no say in the definition of the rates of taxation; the freedom and the responsibility to collect belong solely to the political power, which forms its fiscal policies according to its own calculations. The same applies to the state’s spending: the compulsory charges are used by the political power to finance precisely the state’s projects, over which the politicians debate in Congress.
Seen in this way, the taxpayer is a pretty dismal political figure on both sides. It is truly the case that for the vast majority of “taxpayers” it is not at all they who “pay” for something: they are subjected to the financial autonomy of the state, and are obliged to pay, whether it suits them or not. Just as little do they have any say in what the state does with the pile of money that it collects. It is, first of all, in its treasury; it is simply no longer “the money of the taxpayers,” but is subject to the state's free power of disposal.
3. How does the taxpayer see himself on the other hand?
People who trumpets their status as a taxpayer do not want to see the thing so negatively. Clearly, each one grumbles about taxes; but this grumbling is only the accompaniment music to a positive attitude towards the state power by the tax-obligated citizen. The taxpayer arranges this relation so rightly that, in the fulfillment of his tax obligations, he performs a service to the community which deserves recognition. Because he relinquishes a piece of his own hard earned property, he feels completely equal with all the others, the poor as well as the rich taxed citizens, as the financier of the whole business. The taxpayer can imagine that in a real respect everything ultimately depends on him. However, in truth the taxed citizen only submits to the role dictated to him of being a pecuniary resource of the state. But precisely in this and for this, he wants to be appreciated by his state authority.
The taxpayer thinks up his own legal entitlement for his commitments. And it goes like this: if he already pays with a part of his property for the public finances, then ultimately he would have and actually does have the right to a state return. This is very idealistic and consciously ignorant. Because one thing is also very clear to every self-confident taxpayer: with taxes, unlike private commerce between buyers and sellers, no exchange relation is to be seen, far and wide. Because the question who pays how much and the question who the state’s spending benefits have completely obviously nothing to do with each other. And the state also emphatically excludes such a connection, strictly and fundamentally. Nevertheless, here the concept of payment and return holds tenaciously.
3. What is enacted by presenting oneself as a taxpayer, and what criticism follows from it?
If wage earners, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs and so on do not want to know anything about their social differences and conflicts, but take the floor only in their character as a taxpayer, they leave behind their contemptible self-interest. Then it is no longer about their position, their livelihood and how they get by. That is decided somewhere else. With the title “taxpayer” they want to be appreciated as equal contributors who do their part, like everyone else, to finance the community according to their abilities. As a taxpayer, according to the conceit, everyone counts for something. Every activity – regardless whether one gets a little money with a lot of difficultly for one's own essentials for living or whether one lives on a large manager's salary – is alienated in the service of a greater whole.
The coercive regime of state taxes and fiscal policy, which sets in motion the conflicts of capitalistic competition, constantly appears in a thoroughly positive light as a big community. Even though this capitalist society is nevertheless set up so that it consists of raucous contradictory interests: the tenant wants to pay little rent, but maybe the landlord wants to take a lot of rent. Little in common... The worker wants possibly a lot of wages because with it he must deal with his living expenses. For the capitalist, however, reducing the wage is a means of business. And now this world of conflicts appears as one communal activity financed by the taxpayers. If one takes this point of view, one is peeved and accepts that one pays taxes from one's meager income and that the state decides on what happens with the money. And then the state, which prescribes the whole, is only an executive organ of this communal project. The taxpayers fancy themselves as financiers who have the right to pay attention to whether it does this fairly. That's the aforementioned return that the taxpayer demands of the state power.
The state has to prove that it complies with its duty to a fiscal and budgetary policy benefiting the public good, thus also deserves the material support which the taxpayer gives it. The state should pursue a budgetary policy benefiting the common good. In what does this consist? It is one that makes no mistakes by handling the hard earned money of its citizens in an unfair way, that takes no more from them than is absolutely necessary, and that does not manage this money “irresponsibly.”
Measured by these criteria, the taxpayer always has reason for discontent. The payment obligations of the taxpayer never match what he imagines he would really be entitled to from the state. How could it – it is just not in this relation at all. The state has its own criteria according to which it spends the compulsorily taken money on helping America succeed. But it should not only be noticeable in a crisis that the success of America has nothing to do with a good income for Joe Sixpack. Lots of work, low wages, social cuts, absolute poverty and private bankruptcies have long been reported on all the television channels.
The taxpayer likes to see this in a different way. With the demand for tax justice, he acknowledges the state’s monetary growth and its sovereignty over how much and where the money flows, but wants to announce that in this duty, nevertheless, there would probably be different, more deserving or fewer figures to help. And the criticism of too much spending always discovers wrong beneficiaries: these are, in his eyes, social parasites and sponges in the big whole to whom money flows unfairly. And the taxpayer is completely free to define those who are on this list. For him, CEOs as well as welfare recipients, or even both, can be listed.
On the other side, too little is always left over for services for him, the good citizen. So the taxpayer holds tenaciously to the smug equation that his payment gives him the right to a fiscal policy according to his ideas. And he thinks this even though he also knows that the state simply does not ask its citizens how the taxes should be taken and how this money should be spent. Oh well, which criticism is left: in his arrogant, ideal role of the fair tax collector and distributor of state wealth, the taxpayer becomes abusive against everybody who he suspects of undeserved enrichment from his money. He therefore becomes critical towards the state, which always sins against his – so the conceit – criteria.
5. How do the politicians relate to the taxpayer who criticizes politicians from the standpoint of the imaginary fair distributor?
The politicians have nothing in principle against this type of criticism. In fact, they supply it with ammunition all the time. Politicians just have a knack for which criticisms they must reject, and which they can use for their business. The criticism from the standpoint of the taxpayer always belongs to the latter type. Here people become angry from a point of view that in principle completely approves of everything that the state power organizes and also its financing methods. These people dedicate themselves mentally only to the question to what extent they do not come out too badly, even as an important material supporter of this beautiful community Politicians are happy to serve this point of view – namely, in such a way that it leads them to always talk about being of the same opinion as the figure of the taxpayer.
The taxpayer is suitable as a universal title of appeal. Everything that politicians do and plan one way or another, they explain and justify by saying that they in no case want to abuse the money of the taxpayer. And they count on the fact that their political plans are immediately accomplished with it. Politicians stylize themselves the highest representatives of the viewpoints of justice and thriftiness who always struggle for these principles under the most adverse circumstances, ensuring their enforcement even in crisis. And if it need be, the politicians earn the trust of the taxpayers even with real material services. So that it becomes clear beyond doubt that the billions go to the banks under all the viewpoints of justice and responsibility, the bankers by order of the government get their salaries cut to a meager $500,000 a year. There must be this much consideration for the sense of justice in the people …
What happens if one speaks out as a taxpayer?
The taxpayer transforms the fact that money is compulsorily taken away from him into his own contribution to a common big whole which entitles him to recognition and consideration. From this point of view, he grumbles about the other taxpayers as unjustified beneficiaries and about the state as an unfair distributor. And what does he get from it? The state and the politicians use the money for America's progress and the people become continually impoverished by it. As a wage for subservient Yes of the taxpayer to the sovereignty of the state over the funds and the spending of the compulsory fees, the taxpayer gets the assurance of the politicians that it is not easy for them really, that they take into consideration the criteria demanded by the taxpayer for justice and responsibility, and that therefore they are rightfully entitled to sovereignty over everything. So the taxpayer gets a lot of appreciation – and the impoverishment continues – in the name of the taxpayer.
One should really not agitate for this.