We Americans are ready to help a person in need once we hear their story, but we will fight vociferously against raising taxes to accomplish the same good
Americans possess both a generous heart and a stingy spirit. A popular crowdfunding source recently reported that donors gave over $930 Million to individuals who resort to these sites as their last hope of raising funds for life-threatening medical procedures. In fact, if you go to the popular crowdfunding site GoFundMe, you will see their lead ad touting the site as a great place to “raise money for medical bills.”
I must admit I am conflicted over all of this. On one hand, I see this outpouring of generosity as truly something to celebrate: nearly a billion dollars donated by regular folks like you and me to support the medical needs of others. This demonstrates that when people hear of the specific story of someone in pain, they will respond rapidly and generously. On the other hand, I find it disturbing that so many must resort to publicly beg for funds in order to cover the costs of their medical care. This has become so prevalent that one of the crowdfunding executives described his site as a “digital safety-net”.
What I find ironic about this is that we Americans are ready to help a person in need once we hear their story, but we will fight vociferously against raising taxes to accomplish the same good. There are many who support cuts in Medicaid – the government funded health care for those who are poor or who have a disability – yet will think nothing of donating money to help an impoverished child obtain a critical operation.
Some argue that too many people abuse public services and tax dollars are wasted on those who don’t deserve to be helped. I suspect this is the heart of the matter: who is deserving of our money and our assistance and who is not.
What is it in the human heart that can be so generous and yet so cold? I get it, that people choose where they spend their philanthropic dollars, but may feel forced to pay taxes and often for services they don’t use or don’t support. I don’t support the idea that over $600 billion in federal taxes is spent on the military. But I pay my taxes anyway and work to convince my elected officials that the dollars spent on war and war preparation can be better spent and with a higher social return for such things as early childhood education and healthcare for all. If you want the freedom to choose, then you have it. Choose those elected officials who will support your point of view or work to remove them. That is a very real choice.
Maybe it’s all in the marketing. Someone should start a marketing campaign to convince the public that paying taxes is nothing more than giving money to a crowdfunding site. Paying taxes is simply a group of citizens pooling funds to provide education, healthcare, housing, food, disaster relief to our fellow citizens in need. Think of our local, state and national government as merely an old-school version of a crowdsourcing site raising funds to ensure that the basic necessities of life are provided for everyone.
If our budget is our truest mission statement, then how we spend our money says more about our values than any other measure I can think of. If we were more generous with our tax dollars, perhaps the next time a child requires an expensive medical procedure, the family won’t have to beg for funds to save her life. Our crowdfunded taxes will have already provided for that.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.