Small World: Slouching toward Fryeburg

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Two questions weigh upon me as clouds lower upon the Lake Region. They leapt to mind as the chassis of my small car bounced from pothole to rut to crevice on a trip to Fryeburg and back to Bridgton. The surface of that pavement is much like that of the District of Columbia — ruined by bad treatment and neglected by responsible officials.

The two questions: First, why is it that the never-ending advances in technology cannot be resisted? Second, why is that we citizens cannot agree to pay the taxes necessary to cover work essential for a properly functioning society?

As to the technological imperative: Plainly, the engineering wizards of vehicle manufacturing companies are capable of producing larger and larger trucks to carry heavier and heavier loads over roads ill-prepared to withstand the consequent punishing treatment. It is the same thing with weapons systems capable of killing greater numbers of people. Of appliances and devices that are designed with a shorter and shorter life spans after a showy start. Or — you fill in the blank with something that is modern now but destructive of it purpose later.

The question almost never asked about the modern is, “Is it a good idea, good for society?” If the answer is, “Well, no, but it is new and improved,” money will be found to assure its future use and the moral or practical argument against adopting it, however valid, will be argued down with loads of cash. And so the trucks roll on.

Try suggesting that heavy-duty logging vehicles be banned or that public funds be used to lay down roadbeds equal to the task of supporting them. The public, worn out by what is labeled common sense, will be condemned to wearing out their springs and tires — all the while with a smile or shrug. “What else can we do?” they ask.

Their answer to that question is, no, we will not pay more in taxes or even require that our better off fellow citizens do so. Alas, higher taxes have become what Satan’s sins were for earlier generations: An evil that must be resisted, even though they too might bring us more fun and better lives. Purveyors of junk stuff easily consume our dollars; they are tolerated and encouraged. Yet, if the government collects and spends our money, it is deemed an unnatural and oppressive act.

Why is that? Why the intense dislike for purchasing public goods — roads, education, health care, protection — with funds the government has collected from us. I used to think that those of us who served in the military experienced first hand the waste of official resources. Then, I came to think that the recurring cases of corruption in official circles led citizens to believe that their money would be stolen.

With the cynicism of advanced years, I have reluctantly concluded that the average taxpayer simply does not care for the condition or fate of his fellow countrymen. Let them see to their own health care or education. I’ve got mine; let’s move on. A selfish generation, but not a sensible one.

The harder question remains: What makes the ordinary citizen oppose higher tax rates for far richer Americans. I suppose basically it comes down to the fear that higher taxes for those above me will inevitably sweep downward and be applied to my modest income. And I suppose there is an element of ignorance of history: How many know that our economy was at its most healthy in the 1950s and 1960s when the top tax rate was around 90%?

With the presidential election season opening, we will hear much of inequality — the income and wealth gaps between the top and the rest of us. We will also hear much talk of bridging the gaps by improved education, job opportunities and such — all valid palliatives. But listen hard for talk of higher taxation to fill in the rich/poor crevice. To be sure, there will be much talk of bringing the country together in bipartisan unity. Unity, that is, in all matters except support for government as an instrument of society.

And so we continue slouching towards Fryeburg, dodging the crevices.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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