Jonah Goldberg

"We should change our conception of what taxes mean," Shakir sermonized. "Most people who join country clubs, or gyms, or other exclusive entities in America, feel ... proud to pay that monthly due, because they want to be part of that special privileged community in which they receive wonderful resources and benefits." Americans "should feel that same kind of awe and respect for paying taxes ... we shouldn't have an aversion to paying some amount of taxes."

Give him points for trying. But let's take out our red pens.

First, one senses that when Shakir says "some amount" he means "any amount." As for this idea that people should feel the same "awe and respect for paying taxes" as they do when they belong to a gym, I've got to ask: What gym does this guy go to?

The fundamental problem with marketing taxes as dues or fees is, well, they're not dues or fees. Dues are voluntary. Fees can be withheld for bad service, and whatever "awe and respect" one feels comes not from paying the fee but from getting good value for it.

Moreover, most "exclusive entities" don't charge wildly divergent rates to different customers based on their incomes. In fact, vast swaths of Americans don't pay the "dues" (income taxes) at all. They do pay the "fees" (sales and payroll taxes), but they get back more from government than they pay into it. And don't get me started on how illegal immigration fits this country club metaphor.

The "exclusive entity" analogy actually supports not higher and more progressive income taxes, but a flat tax. Everybody pays X percent of their income. Everyone has the same share of skin in the game.

In fairness, Republicans successfully sell their anti-tax message not because they have better orators or buy craftier linguists, but because taxpayers don't feel they're getting a lot of value for their dollars, and most suspect they could feel the same "awe and respect" for half the price.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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