I’m glad you wrote this article, as I think this is a common objection, especially among more conservative people, so it is good to have a stock response. However, I think it could be significantly improved by first building up a steel-man of the ‘myth’ and then precisely targetting the response.
Most people around the world pay 20–40% of their income in taxes to support government services.
This link goes to a table of top quoted marginal income tax rates. However, this is an over-estimate, because the average is below the marginal. It is also an under-estimate, because it does not include sales taxes, property taxes, VATs, inheritance taxes, corporation taxes, payroll taxes, petrol taxes, tobacco taxes, mandatory insurance purchases, licence fees, utility taxes or import tariffs. I would recommend looking at total government spending / GDP instead.
This obligatory and often large payment can feel like the end of our civic duties — the culmination of our “fair” contribution to society, nullifying the need for further charitable giving.
I think this is a bit of a straw-man; I would expect people making this objection to also regard voting, jury duty, educating their children, national service, not committing crimes etc. to also be part of their civic duties.
Also if your point is that charity is different from taxes I’m not sure it makes sense to talk about ‘further’ charitable giving.
While lower-income countries suffer from an overall lack of funding, wealthier countries are liable to misallocate the funding they have.
This seems like a strange argument. Yes, small countries would benefit from more funding, but so would rich countries. Similarly, while rich countries are liable to spend on wasteful things, so are poor countries. The correct argument is not ‘need vs misallocation’, it is about diminishing marginal utility of money.
Also, the citation you provided seems rather niche. There are many major examples of government waste in the first world—extremely inefficient procurement being a very clear and non-partisan example. In contrast, the fact that some authors argue that too much climate change research funding has gone to research climate change seems like a relatively small and not obviously compelling example.
Political mobilization can influence governments’ budgetary spending and help correct such misallocations,
This does not seem obviously non-trivially the case to me. There are many examples of political campaigns pushing for increasing in spending on something, but I struggle to think of many examples of similar successful campaigns to cut spending. And on average I would generally expect populist campaigns to reduce the average efficiency of spending, even if they ‘could’ in theory improve it.
Rather than viewing taxes as charity, think of them as payment for services that benefit you and your fellow citizens. Infrastructure and social services are important!
I’m not sure why you are pushing this view, it seems very confused to me:
If they are a ‘payment for services that benefit you’ it is a very strange sort of payment. The amount of taxes you pay is not very closely linked at all to the amount of benefit you get, and you have almost no ability to opt out. Indeed, many people will pay taxes that go to fund the government hurting them.
If the taxes really are a payment for services to benefit your fellow citizens, this seems somewhat like charity. In this case, why shouldn’t I treat taxes to fund a fellow citizen’s education as being similar to donations to a domestic education charity?
Only a relatively small fraction of taxes go towards infrastructure. Even Biden’s recent ‘Infrastructure Bill’ is mostly non-infrastructure spending.
Public serves are a larger component of spending, but are still often dominated by welfare spending of one kind or other.
This section takes an unnecessarily political view that risks alienating some readers despite making no difference to the core argument. Even if taxes were 100% waste there would still be a strong argument to give to charity.
Paying your taxes is the right thing to do, but paying your taxes alone is not sufficient to significantly improve the lives of others.
Similarly, I’m not sure what argument this is trying to make. The idea that we have an obligation to pay taxes is not uncontroversial, but to the extent people believe it, it is largely because they think doing so makes people better off. A lot of people probably believe that if they were excused from paying taxes that would significantly improve their life; if paying taxes doesn’t significantly help anyone else, but it does hurt them, why should paying be the right thing for them to do?
But again, this seems extraneous. Giving to charity is a good idea regardless of whether paying taxes significantly improves the lives of others, and regardless of whether it is the ‘right thing to do’.
Thanks for the very detailed feedback! I’ve shared this with the team and we’ll be addressing it and incorporating into an updated version ὠ0