In fact, the last time taxes were this low was the Roaring Twenties — the gilded age of robber barons, city slums and populist movements vaguely remembered from your 11th grade history class.
It's an excellent time to be a taxpayer, but political pundits still aren't exactly rejoicing.
That's to be expected. Taxes, along with death, are considered unavoidably bad things. That's economically sound, too — taxes distort markets a fair amount, which some economists think lowers overall productivity. So boo on taxes — we should still be ecstatic that our taxes are at such a low rate, right?
But here's the thing. Taxes aren't a sacrifice taken out of your pocket and burned on an altar. They're payment for public services. Taxes pay for the roads we drive on, the currency we take for granted, and the schools that will be available to our kids. Without those pesky taxes, we wouldn't be here – both because the University of Tennessee wouldn't exist and we'd probably all have been blown up a century ago.
We want taxes, because we want certain things that can only be effective on a nationwide or statewide scale.
This mentality of tax as payment for services has been lost. It's hard to blame the U.S. citizenry, when the last president who seemed to be out of the reach of special interest groups — and government secrecy — was assassinated in 1963. Since then, there's been a bit of a scandal frenzy. (See Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinski, Dick Cheney's War and the NSA).
Conservatives play on this distrust of the government. When people distrust the government they want a smaller one, the ideal of libertarians and tea partiers. Thus, when politicians prove to be corrupt, even conservative ones, small-government idealists win. Government is bad, taxes are bad, let's get rid of everything but our bloated army and invasive "national security" programs.
Truthfully, taxes don't kill a country. The Netherlands, with the highest personal income tax rates in the world (up to 68 percent), is so popular that it's having to make more land by pouring dirt in the ocean (really). Sweden, No. 2 on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development list of happiest nations — also has the second highest income taxes on the rich at 58 percent.
On the other hand, taxes can be seriously damaging to an economy. Countries like Greece, France and Spain had exorbitant taxes and are still experiencing their version of the Great Depression. Here at home, 230 congressmen have signed a pledge never to raise taxes on anyone, ever, labeling them a blight to society.
Instead of just hating taxes, though, let's think of them as an investment. Here are two simple ways to improve the return to our taxes: stop lining the pockets of defense contractors, the NSA and Medicare providers, and start actually defending and caring for citizens. It's cheaper. And have politics come from representative democracy, not special interest groups funding crucial ad campaigns (read: publicly financed elections).
Like it or not, we all have taxes to pay. We might as well get the best bang for our buck.
Evan Ford is a junior in philosophy. He can be reached at email@example.com.