We can’t keep defaulting on payment for civilization

Thomas Jefferson famously said: “I love paying taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” Police. Firefighters. Schools. Education. Roads and bridges. Social Security and Medicare for our old ones. Health care for children and families in poverty. Social workers to protect our children and vulnerable adults. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard. Utility and construction workers to maintain sewers and the White House. National parks and their staffs. Prison staff. Yes, that civilization.

What in the world ever made people think that one day we could declare victory forever and say “No more taxes ever”?

For 30 years in South Carolina we said that about education, the roads and child protective services, among other things. Now all three are among the worst in the nation. Next up, health care. If the Congress cuts Medicaid, we’ll have to triage reduced funds: seniors in nursing homes, or children in poverty? The chronically ill, or the acutely ill? Expensive cancer medication for women, or for children?

Conservatives are fond of comparing the country’s finances to a family’s. The family can’t spend more than it makes, they say righteously, and neither can our country. So we must reduce spending, which in their calculus justifies letting civilization be repossessed by chaos.

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