Thanksgiving has been a national holiday in the U.S. since 1870. During most of that period, at least until recently, it has also been a unifying force as immigrants to this country, eager to be assimilated to American society,[i] and recognizing the holiday’s universal message of gratitude,[ii] have adopted the day as their own.[iii]
In 1863, only months after the Battle of Gettysburg and the Siege of Vicksburg, and a few years before Thanksgiving officially became a national holiday, President Lincoln issued the following Proclamation:[iv]
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. * * * They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens * * * to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that * * * they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, * * * fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
State of the Union
The Friday after our national holiday has become known as “Black Friday,”[vii] a name which, in almost every culture, carries a negative connotation, one that is usually associated with the occurrence of some calamity.[viii] In the U.S., for example, the day of the stock market crash on October 19, 1987 is known as Black Monday,[ix] and the day of the 1929 stock market crash (October 29) is known as Black Tuesday.
Why, then, is Thanksgiving associated with a “dark day?[x] Are the shoppers to whom this day seems all important made to suffer against their will by sleeping outside some box store in anticipation of the “deals” waiting within?[xi]
Even these folks have much for which to be thankful.[xii] They traveled to their destinations on what are probably well-paved, well-lit, and well-protected roads. They are confident that their local, not-yet-defunded police force will protect them from any bad actors, and that their fire department will quickly respond to any alarm caused by someone’s overzealous display of decorative lights in their neighborhood. They are hopeful that their kids are at home doing the homework assigned to them by their teachers at the local public school.[xiii] The store itself is sure to be filled with all manner of consumer goods from all over the world, many of which were loaded onto trains at docks and then transported by rail, through tunnels and over bridges, and some of which are available only because the government once funded a promising line of research. If the shopper should trip over a “misplaced” package or slip on a discarded wrapper while recklessly running across the store, they are secure in the knowledge that an ambulance will be there in a jiffy to bring them to a hospital. Should they feel the need to seek redress for any commercial wrong or physical harm realized during their outing, the courts will be available to them. If they need a rest from their labor, a nearby public park may be the perfect place. After their shopping bonanza, the shopper may pick up a meal from a local diner or supermarket, which is sure to be well-stocked.[xiv] At no point during this “shopping ordeal” will they be fearful of Mr. Putin invading their hometown.[xv]
The Social Contract
The foregoing is a simplistic illustration of just some of the benefits accorded to a member of an organized society.[xvi]
Such a society is founded upon the construct known as the social contract, according to which individuals have come together in a society for their mutual benefit. An individual is admitted into society and accorded various benefits in exchange for (a) agreeing to limit their power to act as they alone see fit – i.e., abiding by the society’s rules – and (b) agreeing to contribute their share of the means required for the maintenance and preservation of such society and for the promotion of the common good of its members.
Of course, the “person” to which the individual makes the above-referenced contribution is the government, and the contribution is paid in the form of taxes.
Thus, the Declaration of Independence states that all individuals
“are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”[xvii]
In other words, when individuals pay taxes to the government, they expect to receive something of value in return – there is a mutual pledge and exchange of commitments. A member of a social unit who pays taxes to the government provides the government with the economic wherewithal that the taxpayer expects will be used by the government to reciprocate by creating and fostering an environment from which, and in which, the member may prosper.[xviii]
As implied above, this benefit typically is not provided directly to an individual taxpayer. Instead, the government uses the tax dollars collected from its members to protect all within its jurisdiction – i.e., its taxpayers and their dependents – from harm to themselves and to their property, whether from internal or external sources,[xix] to provide and support education and cultural enrichment,[xx] to promote and maintain their health and well-being,[xxi] and to provide infrastructure.[xxii] In short, the government is expected to create a framework within which, or a foundation upon which, its members generally may prosper.
Where Are We?
Assuming taxes are paid and collected on some sort of graduated scale[xxiii] – whether based on income, wealth, or consumption – the government’s use of the taxes collected for the common good necessarily results in a redistribution of wealth because all benefit equally from this application of tax dollars.
How does one reconcile this fact with the social contract paradigm pursuant to which an individual pays tax with the expectation that the government will reciprocate on a somewhat commensurate basis?
What if a taxpayer believes, reasonably or not, that their tax payments are being squandered by the government? For example, what if one’s “contribution” of taxes to society is used by the government to pay interest on funds that were borrowed by the government to pay for programs of questionable benefit? In 2022, the government received approximately $5 trillion of tax revenue and paid approximately one-half trillion dollars of interest on the national debt.[xxiv]
Or what if the public services provided by the government are inadequate?
In other words, what if the government is perceived as doing a poor job[xxv] of performing its obligations under the social contract?
Under these circumstances, will taxpayers willingly continue to pay their tax obligations in their entirety? Will some taxpayers seek out ways of avoiding or reducing the payment of such taxes? Will others move to a different society, one that is more responsive to these taxpayers’ stated needs or in line with what they profess to be their values?
Is There A Resolution?
How often have tax advisers heard their clients comment that they had no issue with paying taxes provided the funds were spent prudently and responsibly, and provided they derived some benefit therefrom?[xxvi]
Without demonstrable proof of the foregoing – and with plenty of evidence supporting a contrary conclusion, together with a burgeoning deficit – most taxpayers will remain suspect of taxes, generally, and of tax increases in particular, especially when they imposed to fund programs of limited or questionable value.
Which brings us to a crossroads of sorts. Does social contract theory need to shift its focus away from appealing to the self-interest of society’s members? Must it, instead, focus more on cultivating its members’ “altruism” in order to bring them into line with what the government has determined are the realistic needs of society?
Under a socialist paradigm, the government does not seek to cultivate its members’ altruism – rather, it wrings it from them,[xxvii] creating great resentment in the process. Because this approach is contrary to humankind’s natural inclination toward putting one’s own self-interest above that of others,[xxviii] it has failed and will continue to fail unless circumstances cause us to evolve into a different kind of being.
Until then, the government must regain the confidence of its taxpayers by returning to its purpose, and performing well its functions, under the original social contract.
Food for thought on this Thanksgiving.
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[i] Unfortunately, this may no longer be the case as many immigrants seemingly have no interest in learning the English language or learning American history.
Worse still, our government has made it easier for them to remain separate and apart from American culture. There is little incentive to assimilate into “one nation” (as the Pledge of Allegiance states) with shared values and goals, a common history, and a common language.
Instead, we’re descending into some kind of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) that focuses on highlighting our differences, instead of trying to unite us in these dangerous times. Indeed, the only uniformity sought by some self-appointed “keepers of the truth” is that of opinion – one must agree with them to avoid being labeled “a threat to democracy.”
Moreover, our educational system seems determined to rewrite our history and tear down our institutions.
Why would anyone become part of a society of which its own “guardians” are so critical and for which they are so apologetic?
Don’t get me started.
[ii] Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Psalms 136:1.
[iii] While also adapting it to include the traditional foods and cultural practices of their country of origin. Our Thanksgiving table always included a pastitsio or moussaka, some lamb, and feta cheese. These, however, were always “side dishes” – the turkey, the stuffing, the cranberries (a favorite of my grandmother) held the place of honor.
[iv] Lengthy? Worth the read in today’s U.S.
[v] Associated with Christmas.
[vi] Except to criticize the Pilgrims as usurpers and oppressors.
I suppose every one of us is descended from people that were at different times in their history either an “oppressor” or an “oppressed” people.
[vii] In fact, the entire period comprised of the days preceding and following that day is known as Black Friday. Go figure.
[viii] The word “black” is used to describe something dark and malevolent – the opposite of light.
An alternate interpretation: it is during this period that retailers turn a profit after being “in the red” for much of the year.
[ix] Only a few days later, the managing partner at my first job after law school called certain members of my first year class into his office to tell us that those of our classmates who were not in attendance had been asked to leave the firm.
[x] Sadly, recent events have made it a holiday to be remembered for all the wrong reasons as many of our countrymen remain in captivity while others were slaughtered in their homes.
And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I [am] the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them. Ezekiel 25:17.
What? Did you think I was quoting Samuel Jackson’s character (Jules) in Pulp Fiction?
[xi] Don’t get me started on those whose fingers cramp as they shop away online for hours at a time.
[xii] Much of what follows does not apply to Chicago and parts of California.
[xiii] I’m not saying a word. I’m assuming a hypothetical teacher, educated, knowledgeable, intellectually honest, moral by conservative standards. One who sees teaching as a calling, not a job.
[xiv] I remember the first time my grandmother stepped into a Costco. (This was a woman who stored all sorts of nonperishables just in case.) She was awed by the abundance. All she could say was “God keep this country that gives us so much.”
[xv] If you haven’t seen the 1960s film “The Russians are Coming,” you should. This Cold War spoof stars Alan Arkin, Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, and many others.
[xvi] Yes, I’m finally getting to taxes. My post. My rant.
[xvii] One example of such governmental misbehavior, the Declaration states, is the imposition of taxes without the consent of the taxpayers.
[xviii] They will derive a benefit from their payment of taxes.
[xix] For example, police, fire and military protection. I would add border security.
[xx] For example, public schools, museums, and parks.
[xxi] For example, hospitals, plus the prevention, treatment, and eradication of illnesses.
[xxii] For example, roads, bridges, airports, railways, and even housing.
[xxiii] As most income and estate taxes are.
[xxiv] There are too many other examples, but here a couple more: caring for aliens who have crossed into this country illegally, and supporting women’s and girls’ programs in Afghanistan ($2 billion toward the latter in 2021). Meanwhile, our borders are porous.
[xxv] Some might say a piss-poor job.
[xxvi] Remember the line spoken to the President by the character Julius Levinson in the movie Independence Day? “You didn’t think they actually spent ten thousand dollars for a hammer and thirty thousand for a toilet seat, did you?”
[xxvii] As some “enlightened” members of Congress would prefer.
[xxviii] Of course, there are exceptions. We call these individuals saints and heroes.