“It might be objected that the books to be found in my study, even at random, are unlikely to be utterly valueless to me, for I selected them all myself. To meet this objection to my thesis that every book has something of worth to the reader, I asked my wife to go to the nearest Oxfam shop — Oxfam shops being to British high streets what rats are to urban dwellings: you are never more than a few yards from one — and buy at random an airport novel of the kind that people donate to Oxfam . . .”
–from “The lasting worth of ‘worthless’ books” by Theodore Dalrymple
That’s what I say every time I pay my taxes: I love paying for civilization. . . . I’ve also made a conscious decision to think of paying taxes not as a burden to get out of, but as a willingly performed obligation, a way of being a citizen in my community.
My property tax statement came in the mail last month. In Montana, it lists the specific allocation of every tax dollar, down to the penny. We’re spending $50.66 on the county library. $3.84 on “relationship violence services.” $14.08 on “aging services.” $519.98 on elementary schools, and $168.90 for “elementary equalization,” which goes towards school districts that don’t get the same $$$ in property taxes. $14.48 in weed control. $35.99 towards the beloved neighborhood park, where there’s a natural iceskating rink and hoards of children and so much room for the dogs to run. $7.68 in substance abuse prevention. And $56.70 towards the Open Space bond, which includes that regraded path and sitting area.
I don’t have kids, so I don’t personally “use” the public school system. I don’t have friends or family members in substance abuse programs, or in need of assistance fleeing domestic abuse. I don’t (yet) need aging services. But the idea that I should only pay for things that benefit me directly is anathema to me. Every single thing on that list benefits me in some way, because it benefits the community around me. Kids’ education matters not because they’re my kids, but because education matters, in general. I might not need rescue services in the woods out in the corner of the county, but some day, maybe I would. Maybe I would need help in some way that’s currently unimaginable to me. Paying taxes means caring for other people, even if their circumstances aren’t identical to your own. And for all of our best intentions, sometimes we need incentive to care about other people.
I’ve spent a lot of time reporting on and talking to libertarians and conservatives who object to nearly all forms of taxation and government spending, apart from roads. They believe that individuals should be able to decide which programs are important to them, and fund them accordingly — personally, through non-profits, through churches. I get the impulse; we work hard for our money and we’ve internalized a “right” to agency over where it’s directed. Within that model, there are all sorts of services that would fall through the cracks — and not just weed control. Just look at the GoFundMe model: if you have a cute kid, an incredibly tragic or melodramatic story, and a good marketing sense, your plea for assistance might go viral and be filled. But the vast majority go unfunded and unfound. Leaving services up to subjective giving means allowing so many people, and projects, to fall through the cracks. Taxes create a[n objective] remove — and foils our very human, but very uneven, impulses.
–from “paying for civilization” @ https://annehelen.substack.com
Three by students:
In contrast, there are other proposed solutions aimed at reducing recidivism. Recent Princeton MPA graduate and government consultant Daniel Edelman writes in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that, “By addressing head-on the financial troubles of people leaving incarceration, we may be able to accelerate their reintegration and transition to stable employment, reduce recidivism, and meaningfully improve the United States’ criminal justice system” (Edelman 113). To paraphrase, Edelman believes poverty is one factor that increases the chances that a released inmate will behave illegally. Therefore, his solution to the recidivism problem is to provide newly released inmates monthly cash stipends to deter the convicts from returning to criminal activity.
While Edelman is correct in his assertion, the implementation of his solution isn’t as feasible as my proposed solution. One reason it would be difficult to implement is funding. With the Trump Administration declaring a second “war on drugs” in response to the opioid epidemic, funding for Edelman’s solution likely wouldn’t come from the federal government, since it would be quite expensive. Instead, funding would have to come from state governments, which would be even harder to obtain, since budgets for incarceration are already strapped. In contrast, my solution is to slowly allocate funds from the budget for prison education programs that are already in place. That way more prisoners have the opportunity to receive higher education and secure employment immediately after release.
There are other solutions to the problem of college students eating poorly. A recent study was done to find what students thought about how to promote healthy eating. Written in BMC Public Health, Habiba Ali and others say, “accessibility, peer influence, and busy schedules were the main factors influencing students’ food choices from campus vending machines” (Ali et al). To paraphrase their solution, the students decided that healthy vending as well as health promoting signs around the vending machines would be the best way for access to healthy foods.
While this study was very well done and made a few very good points, healthy vending is not the best option. Writing in the LA Times, Elena Conis contrasts the nutritional facts from the top snacks in normal vending machines with the top snacks in healthy vending machines. The snacks from healthy vending are slightly healthier: they have less fat and fewer calories. However, overall, they are not healthier (Conis). Healthy vending will only give students the idea that they are eating healthy when in reality, they are not. There are vending machines with fruit in them, but they are expensive to maintain and if not eaten quickly enough, the fruit will go bad. I believe that having a healthy food option in the cafeteria is the best option. It will be truly healthy food and not just the perception of healthy food.
Though there are many alternative ways to deal with the problem of mental health, the most common I have come across is implementing more psychologists in school. Summarizing the information found by experts from many schools, Anya Kamenetz, in an article by for NPR, says, “their topline message: Don’t harden schools. Make them softer, by improving social and emotional health” (Kamenetz). She goes on to discuss how the school climate may impact students and creating an emotionally and socially connected environment may help the mental health of students at schools. This all boiled down to the importance of school psychologists.
What Kamenetz is trying to show is very true, school psychologists can help with the mentally ill and have been shown to help the school environment (Kamenetz). The main problem is that not everyone is going to seek professional help first. In a study done by Guo Sisi and other researchers, they discovered that students are most likely to seek a friend in a time of crisis over an adult (Guo, Sisi, et al.). This can become very dangerous in situations of crisis. Teenaged friends are not trained and probably lack experience adult are more likely to have. If they solely go to a friend they are piling their own problems on them, meaning if they do end up hurting themselves, the friend is likely to blame themselves. To combat this, teaching coping skills and where and why to get help would be much cheaper. It doesn’t cost as much to change health textbooks, while hiring a new psychiatrist is going to cost more over time. The importance of teaching kids to help themselves may lead them to seeing they need help from others as well.