This time of year sneaks up on most of us—the time when we are frantically looking for receipts, thinking about how we are going to organize our financial lives and whether you should TurboTax your own filing or just pay someone to do the dirty work for you. A quick word of advice: If you are going to get someone to process your taxes, pay the money outright and hire a professional. Don’t lose a dollar to save a penny.
I know it may sound insane, but I actually like tax season. No, I haven’t bumped my head. I am well aware that most Americans think Congress and members of the government waste money at obscene rates. I also know that many people have lost faith in their elected leaders to do what is right. However, when I think about all of the positive things that my hard-earned money pays for through taxes, I am able to reconcile parting with some of my wages.
Yes, there are some wasteful apples in the bunch, and there are many policies and programs I do not support. However, much of our money goes toward public schools, roads and infrastructure and salaries for the people who protect our lives and our interests. Essentially, my taxes pay for so many resources I use on a daily basis. My taxes also pay for many items I don’t use, but that is what being a part of a larger collective good is all about. By paying taxes, I am contributing to the larger whole so that this city, state and country can operate more efficiently.
Each semester, I teach my students in my “Introduction to Politics” course about free riders and the tragedy of the commons. Essentially, free riders are people who enjoy the benefits of shared goods without contributing their fair share—in this case, people who do not pay taxes or those who make lots of money and try to find any and every loop hole in the tax code to make sure they do not have to pay their portion for the collective good. I always remind them that too many free riders can create a tragedy of the commons, in which collective resources are overused and ultimately destroyed. This occurs when people only act in their own self-interest and assume someone else will cover their share.
When I think of all of the resources at our disposal in this country, I remember that they are made possible because hardworking people pay taxes and contribute to the collective good to make sure our resources are available. So as April 15 approaches and you begin to wonder if you will receive money or whether you will have to “pay the government,” just remember all of the necessary goods you are supporting. Hopefully that will make writing the check to the IRS a little easier.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.