Saturday, August 22, 2009

Let's talk taxes

And just to keep it neat and simple, let's talk local taxes. City or county taxes.

It is taxes that allows the county of Los Angeles to run a public library system. I was at the library a couple of times this week, and I saw a lot of kids who probably come from low-income families, I saw people using the free computers to look for jobs and print out resumes, I saw old people reading the newspapers, and so on. It seemed to me like a very good thing. Most countries don't have anything like the public libraries we have, not even England or Japan.

If it were not for our public libraries, people with the money to spare could buy books in bookstores or through I can afford to buy books, and I do spend a fair amount of money per year buying my own books, magazines, and videos. I don't depend on the public library, though I like going there.

But if less government is better government, and if lower taxes are better than higher taxes, then it follows that we would be better off without taxing people to pay for libraries. If rich people want to donate books to poor kids, that's their choice, but why should successful, prosperous people who work hard and earn enough money to buy their own books have their money confiscated to allow access to books by people who haven't made the same good choices in their own lives?

Why should booksellers have to compete against public libraries that completely undercut them on cost? If we eliminated public libraries, more copies of books would be sold, increasing the income of hard-working authors, which would be good for the economy. Why should JK Rowling sell only one or two copies of Harry Potter to the library, to be read by dozens of kids? It seems awfully unfair to Borders and as well as Blockbuster, JK Rowling, and Houghton Mifflin that they pay taxes which then go to undermine their profits!

And ya know what? I bet some of those kids I saw at the library the other day speaking a foreign language have parents who came into the country illegally. That elderly Korean guy reading the Korean newspaper (my tax dollars being used to buy foreign language books and newspapers?!) could have over-stayed his visa. He may very well be an illegal himself.

This is essentially the same argument that is used on a broader scale to argue that we can't afford health care for all, that high taxes are unfair, that government should stay out of our lives. Is it convincing in regards to public libraries? Would anyone vote to close down their local libraries and sell the buildings in order to raise money, so as to lower taxes?

We take things like public libraries (and public schools and public highway systems) for granted. But if they had to be voted into existence now, would such a proposal pass? Or would people be standing up at meetings screaming, "I buy my own damn books and newspapers and dvds, and I'll be damned if I'll let some bureaucrat decide what books the city should buy. I fought for this country, and why should I be forced to pay for books in Korean and Japanese and Spanish, which I don't even read, or pay for books that are going to be read by kids whose parents came here illegally!! This thing will bankrupt us!"

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