Goodness me, that new Massachusetts senator, Scott Brown, sure knows how to articulate the popular rage. On Neil Cavuto’s show on Fox News Channel last week, he was asked about the Texas kamikaze who crashed his small plane into a building in Austin that houses IRS offices, killing himself and one other person and doing easily a million dollars property damage.  Brown was not about to rush to judgment. The pilot may have had issues, he said, and besides, “No one likes paying taxes, obviously.”

I sure don’t like paying taxes. I don’t like paying for groceries, either. In an ideal world, they’d be free. But they’re not, and that’s the way it is, and I don’t think it would be proper for me to manifest my annoyance at this injustice by crashing my personal aircraft into the local Kroger’s. Or even ramming a grocery cart into a display pyramid of baked beans.

The thing Sen. Brown and some of our fellow citizens need to remember in this  winter of overheated rhetoric is that there are very few things we need that don’t cost money.

If we’re fortunate, and the vast majority of us in this country are, we can afford a bag of groceries, clothes, a warm place to live and some form of personal transportation, not to mention a cell phone, a computer and a flat-screen TV. But some things just don’t lend themselves practically to individual purchase.

Take roads, for instance.  On my salary, I could afford enough private road to get me maybe 1/8 of a mile from my house. If I were to form a corporation with my neighbors, I might be able to afford enough private road to carry me a mile. But the more miles I wanted to go, the more neighbors I would have to enlist and the more complicated the whole private road thing would get. There would be exasperating limits on the travel I could do. Even someone as super-fortunate as, say, Rush Limbaugh could afford only so much road.

As luck would have it, however, some of our ancestors – maybe mine, maybe yours – had this grand idea a long time ago: collect taxes from all citizens and allow a few we’ve elected to represent us to use the money to do and build things that are for everybody’s mutual use and benefit.

While I may not “like” paying taxes, I am a realist, and I do like having roads and street lights and parks and libraries and folks in the employ of me and my fellow citizens who are willing to devote themselves to keeping the peace, putting out fires, inspecting food for toxins, keeping the air clean enough to breathe and such like. It’s a trade-off I accepted back when I got my first job (bagging groceries, as it happens), a trade-off that I believe most folks, deep down, know is a time-tested, sensible means to arranging and funding our greater safety and comfort.

So, by all means, let’s discuss, even argue over, what we tax and how much and how our elected representatives apply the money we give them to work with. And let’s definitely demand efficiency and common sense from them – and replace them if they don’t do a good job. But please, let’s not allow ourselves to be bamboozled or frightened into believing that we’d be better off if we got rid of the system entirely. It’s like capitalism. It looks better when you start considering the alternatives.

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Noel Holston

Noel Holston

Noel Holston, originally from Laurel, Miss., is a freelance journalist, songwriter, storyteller and actor who lives in Athens, Ga., with his wife, singer-songwriter Marty Winkler. In a previous life, he was the TV critic at Newsday in New York and, before that, a critic and feature writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Orlando Sentinel.