Citizens V Taxpayers

February 11, 2011

Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! Are We Not Citizens? We Are Taxpayers!

People who think of themselves as ‘taxpayers’ or ‘stakeholders’ rarely act like citizens.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Citizens engage. Taxpayers and stakeholders are units in a monetary transaction. They pay. They demand goods and/or services in return. Civic commitment ends there.

This thought struck me as I booted a half-filled bottle of juice that had rolled out from under a seat as I made my way down the aisle of a streetcar a couple nights back. Sitting down, I looked around. Cue my inner Bette Davis: What a dump! (Although it always comes out sounding more like Katherine Hepburn circa On Golden Pond.) It looked as if some sort of evil gust of wind had blown through and deposited a couple blocks worth of litter around the place. Newspapers. Paper bags and dirty napkins. Bottles and cans.

Citizens take their garbage with them. Taxpayers leave it behind on buses, streetcars and subways, reasoning that they pay the lazy union’s outrageous wages, so they can clean it up. Citizens pick up their dog’s poo. Stakeholders pretend that it’s not their dog. Citizens park illegally, get a ticket and pay it. Taxpayers and stakeholders park illegally, bitch about the ticket being a money grab and clog up the legal system trying to fight it in the hopes the issuing officer doesn’t appear in court.

Taxpayers and stakeholders see every government action as an intrusion and imposition into their lives, every tax a reach into their wallets. Citizens see government as an extension of themselves, duly elected to perform the task of keeping society functioning in an equitable and constructive manner. Citizens pay taxes (sing it along with me as it’s become a familiar refrain) in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., to… buy civilization.

Taxpayers and stakeholders instead quote their patron saint, Ronald Reagan, and pronounce: Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem. They call for smaller government. Citizens do not see small government as a panacea to our problems. In fact, citizens regard the call for smaller government with suspicion, a coded phrase for deregulation and lack of oversight. Smaller government leads to increased Walkertons, Gulf oil spills, near economic collapse.

Taxpayers and stakeholders represent the screaming id of civics discourse. What’s in it for me? I pay too much in taxes. I get too little in return. Me, me, me. I, I, I.

Citizens engage. With their neighbours. With their politicians. With the wider world. Citizenry self-interest extends beyond personal bank accounts and cheap parking. Citizens realize that their well-being is best served when everyone’s welfare is tended to not just their own.

And as we witnessed over the past month or so, with events transpiring as they have in Tunisia and Egypt, it is citizens not taxpayers or stakeholders who overthrow the forces of repression, fear and brutality.

happily submitted by Cityslikr