What we really pay taxes for

«Taxes» must be the most employed word in Portugal these days and with tax increases always comes the same question: what do we pay taxes for?

Those on the right side of the political spectrum can give you a clear answer: for nothing (unless, of course, there are ‘urgent’ and ‘unavoidable’ needs for ‘budgetary consoliation’, as we, they say, experience today).

Hardcore neoliberal policy markers often defend the called ‘trickle-down economics’ approach, arguing that tax cuts on the rich, at expense of cuts on the welfare state machine, «the fat», would pump both savings and investment, leading the way to the construction of vibrant societies. Such circumstances, they would continue, constitute environments prone to economic growth and job creation, benefits shared, in relatively equal fashion, among all citizens of a country or region.

Short version of the story: the rich get a banquet, while the poor put on a fight for the crumbs. That’s ok, that’s just normal not to throw privileges out the window.

Culturaly speaking, most common arguments from the right emanate from prejudiced conceptions of «the poor» as lazy, perhaps drunk, perhaps dirty, primitive, weak and most certainly unvirtuous – as an object or some sort of a dead body, with no soul. A zombie. The decent folk, they say, must not carry such weight on his shoulders. Autch, be aware of the back spasms sir.

However, and here starts the interesting part, the right is not alone such dehumanizing discoursive practices. The leftist rational for charging taxes to feed of the social state has been disappointing so far and it goes something like this: «the poor are not so well off as we [the rich], they are victims of quite a lot of hard luck and it won’t hurt us to give them some help». Oh thank you my lord for such kindness and generosity!

Such ‘paternalism’ derives itself from unfairness, verticality and distance, reinforcing the oppressive structures operating within our societies. Charity represents an act of oppression as long as it does not imply a real feeling of «togetherness», a feeling of unity around the common struggle against a system that exploits some in benefit of others.

I believe taxes and, more broadly, the Welfare State, to be necessary to promote inclusive development, social change and poverty erradication, by providing universally the tools necessary to deliver emancipation.

Those who have the resources must understand they need to contribute not to maintain the status quo but to level the playing field instead, helping those in the bottom of the social pyramid to build the new capacities they need to live fulfilled lifes.

Social justice, in this sense, and quoting from the great Paulo Freire, is about getting everybody out there «living for themselves instead of living for others».


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