A few weeks ago I was traveling in my home country, The Netherlands. On my way to a morning meeting in Amsterdam I got stuck in traffic. When I had finally parked my car, I learned that the traffic chaos was created because the city is renewing the sewage system. Later that day the same thing happened to me in The Hague. And as it turns out, that city is also renewing its sewers. Good idea, I realized, since these sewage systems are about a hundred years old and they surely need some maintenance.
My thoughts went back to the Dutch sewers when I came home to California and caught up with the news about the presidential elections. I read about two candidates frantically explaining how they would lower taxes in the best interest of all Americans. Because that’s the one thing they seem to agree on: Lowering taxes is a good and necessary thing. In fact, through their messages they strengthen the widespread belief that taxes are bad.
I’m not saying that I love nothing better in life than paying taxes, but I have to say that I felt good that politicians and bureaucrats in The Netherlands decided to invest in modernizing the sewage systems. We need governments to invest in the common good. We need them to invest in schools and hospitals, obviously, but also in roads, bridges and indeed sewage systems. It is not a good idea that politicians are competing on how to spend less money on the common good.
At the same time governments lose a lot of money in inefficient, bureaucratic systems and there is therefore a continuous need to be vigilant about government spending. But in the end we should be proud and happy to pay our taxes. They are a good thing and a sign that we value the “we” and the “us” in our world. Because, as we all know, it’s not only about “I” and “me.”
Jurriaan Kamp is the founder and editor of Ode Magazine, the magazine for intelligent optimists.