Citizens V Taxpayers

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

14 Responses to Citizens V Taxpayers

  1. Walt says:

    One of the best musings I’ve read here in quite some time.
    We certainly have way too many stakeholders and way too few citizens.
    Congratulations, well done.

  2. Sixth Estate says:

    Thank you for saying something that’s bothered me for years. Stakeholder and taxpayer lingo implies an economic relationship, and greater privilege for those who pay (or own) more. Obviously that is antithetical to democracy.

  3. Ben Godby says:

    I act like a Citizen but think of myself as a Taxpayer. I don’t vote and see no need to, because the services I expect as a Taxpayer will be provided nonetheless and the actions I deplore as a Citizen – namely war – will be waged irrespective of who sit in Parliament. But: I am a decent human being, I respect the services my government provides within its own borders, and I act in such a way as to show respect for those processes. My Decent Humanity is also the reason I deplore Statism and refuse to give my vote – read: seal of approval – to it.

    And I stopped hatin’ the po’ when I turned eighteen and moved to Quebec. But I definitely hated them when they busted up me and my bros in the park after 11 P.M.

  4. Sonny Yeung says:

    Much of this comes from framing the same person. Social science would look at citizens. Economist see taxpayers.

    The problems at the TTC are happening under Mayor Ford & Chair Stintz now. The PR guy is still Ross.

    As for the litter, the solution would be to simply ban the metros/24 hours & limit the drinks to those bought in the TTC system from vendors OR the reusable mugs.

  5. mischief says:

    Humm. There’s a little illogic here: the taxpayers are liberal. We know because conservative gatherings generate far less litter than liberal ones.

    Earth Day in particular is a bad day for litter

  6. Sam Hall says:

    Your argument only works if people accept your definitions. So, if I asked you if you’d be willing -without any law so compelling you- to serve four years in the military because that’s what a citizen would do; what would you say?
    And if I asked you to define a person who lives on welfare (and no, I don’t mean any specific race, color or creed. this is a hypothetical, doesn’t pay taxes and bitches about how the government doesn’t do enough; what would you say?
    Oughtn’t a citizen question, as well? Like, well, this right now; civil discourse, civilly asking questions. Questions like: would the BP blow out have been as difficult to contain if they weren’t forced (by govt) to drill in such deep water? Would the economic downturn have been mitigated if banks hadn’t been forced to give mortgages to folks who just couldn’t afford them?

    • Sonny Yeung says:

      Dear Sam;So you want to get bogged down on definitions?! Those on social assistance pay sales taxes. The problem with BP was bullying at the management ranks that people did not want to upset with facts… The economic downturn happened as a result of unregulated financial products & some fraudulent underlying mortgages.
      My Question is; what do you do about a bully that does not listen to a majority of deputations that oppose service cuts when there was a guarantee of no service cut because there was supposedly so much gravy to cut?

  7. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    It seems to me that this leaves out a category; Subject.

    A subject not only doesn’t engage, he knuckles under. He does what he’s told without expecting to have much input.

    There are times when both the Citizen and the Taxpayer benefit society. The Subject only benefits the Ruing Class (whoever they may be in a given society)

    Thus, a politician who encourages Taxpayer-ship or Citizenship MAY be honest and aboveboard but a politician who pushes people to act like subjects necessarily MUST be a scoundrel.

  8. CarlS says:

    I beg to differ. I’m both a citizen and a “taxpayer”. I spent over 20 years of my life ensuring there was a place for “citizens” to be free rather than slaves. If you look at the legal definition of “taxpayer” in the IRS Code, you mya find that it is not what you think. And one of the duties of a “citizen” is to question government and keep it honest, which the tax process desparately needs. Income, per the IRS Code and the law the Code is based on, is not taxable unless earned under very specific circumstances. But they don’t tell you that.
    Wastch this and make up your own mind ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngpsJKQR_ZE&feature=player_embedded ).

    • Sonny Yeung says:

      Maybe we should equivicate on Citizen vs Customer since Ford talks about “customer service excellence.” Your youtube guy is free to rob me of the snow bank OR green bin waste that is picked up with our taxes…

  9. […] – disagreement Posted by nurseinbox under philosophy, politics Leave a Comment  The original article is here. I like the concept as it has been started, and lose the author partway through. Let’s take a […]

  10. Henry says:

    Maybe thats how Rob Ford’s respect for Taxpayers paid off. People from Etobicoke and Mississauga and Scarberia are not citizens of “Toronto” (or now the “downtown core” as ive heard it), but they pay tax! Tax that goes to Toronto. Where they don’t live. (They live all the way out in Malvern dammit) Why do we not have members of each borough elected to represent us between City Council, and Mayor?

  11. Seems to me that many of the replies to this post are missing the point. In my mind it’s really a linguistic issue. More and more the corporate barons, the media and our politicians conceive of and refer to the public as “taxpayers” or “consumers”. The words are important because they influence the way we even think about things. Of course, we all pay taxes and we all consume goods and services. And that doesn’t mean we’re bad people. We live in a capitalist, consumption-oriented economy, how could we not? But a taxpayer or a consumer is a very different animal than a citizen. Citizens are public-spirited and care for their fellow man. They don’t begrudge the taxes that pay for programs that benefit others. Taxpayers and consumers? They’re in it for themselves. They want value for money, first and foremost. Again, it’s the words and how they frame the debate that we’re talking about here. I doubt you’ll find anyone who would defend inefficiency or waste on the part of government. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater as, so often, the taxpayer and consumer mindset would.

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