Growing Resentment Against Taxes?

“If I toil it is snatched away from me.”​—Babylonian proverb, about 2300 B.C.E.

“In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.”​—U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin, 1789.

REUBEN works in sales. Every year nearly a third of his hard-earned wages evaporate in the form of taxes. “I don’t see where all this money is going,” he complains. “With so many government cutbacks, we’re receiving less services than ever before.”

Like it or not, though, taxes are a part of life. Writer Charles Adams says: “Governments have been taxing income in many ways as long as there [has] been civilized life.” Taxes have often aroused resentment and have sometimes sparked revolt. The ancient Britons fought the Romans, saying: “How much better to have been slain than to go about with a tax on our heads!” In France hatred of the gabelle, a salt tax, helped spark the French Revolution, during which tax collectors were guillotined. Tax revolts also played a role in the U.S. war of independence, fought against England.

Not surprisingly, resentment against taxes continues to smolder to this day. Experts say that in developing lands tax systems are often “inefficient” and “unfair.” According to one researcher, there is an impoverished African land that had “over 300 local taxes, the administration of which was impossible even with the best of capacities. Proper collection and monitoring mechanisms are either non-existent or not applied, . . . creating opportunities for misuse.” BBC News reported that in one Asian land, “local officials imposed dozens of . . . illegal charges​—from fees for growing bananas to taxes on slaughtering pigs—​either to top up [increase] the local finances or to pad their own pockets.”

The gap between rich and poor fuels the fires of resentment. Says the UN publication Africa Recovery: “One of the many economic differences between developed and developing countries is that developed countries subsidize farmers while developing countries tax farmers. . . . World Bank studies suggest that US subsidies alone reduce West Africa’s annual revenue from cotton exports by $250 [million] a year.” Farmers in developing lands may thus resent it when their government extracts taxes from their already meager earnings. A farmer in one Asian land says: “Whenever [government officials] came here they were bound to be asking for money.”

Similar resentment was seen recently in South Africa when the government imposed a land tax on farmers. The farmers threatened court action. The tax “will cause bankruptcies  among farmers and further unemployment among farmworkers,” charged a spokesman for the farmers. At times, resentment against taxation still results in violence. Reports BBC News: “Two [Asian] farmers were killed last year when police stormed a village where peasants were protesting against excessive taxes.”

It is not only the poor who resent paying taxes, though. A survey in South Africa revealed that many affluent taxpayers “are not willing to pay additional taxes​—even if this meant that the government would not be able to improve the services that are important to them.” World-renowned celebrities in the fields of music, film, sports, and politics have made headlines because of tax evasion. The book The Decline (and Fall?) of the Income Tax observes: “Sadly, our highest government officials, our presidents, have also been far from perfect role models in inspiring ordinary citizens to obey the tax law.”

Perhaps you likewise feel that taxes are excessive, unfair, and overwhelming. How, then, should you view the paying of taxes? Do they serve any real purpose? Why are tax systems often so complex and seemingly unfair? The following articles explore these questions.

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In developing lands the poor may carry an unfair share of the tax burden

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