That Americans hate taxes has become a truism, but it’s not true. Although they disagree sharply about how tax money should be spent, most Americans actually take pride in paying their taxes. Taxpayers in the United States are unusually honest and reliable compared to those in other countries. And, increasingly, Americans are voting for tax hikes.
For my doctoral research on Americans’ experience of taxpaying, I conducted interviews with 49 people in 21 states about their sentiments on taxes. The single most surprising thing I learned is that Americans feel a deep pride about being taxpayers. “It feels good to be able to contribute,” said a 28-year-old from Utah, “and to know that you’re part of the reason why there’s an infrastructure in place.” A woman from Florida agreed. “I feel like it’s a contribution to society and for the future,” she said. “When I’m gone, maybe my little bit of money that I’m putting in is paying somebody else’s Social Security or Medicare or whatever.” (Because the interviews also covered tax evasion, all respondents were promised anonymity in exchange for their participation in the study.)
These respondents are not exceptional. In national surveys, over 95 percent of Americans agree with the statement, “It is every American’s civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes,” and more than half see taxpaying as “very patriotic.” One man from Ohio called it a responsibility to “the Founding Fathers.” A former Marine said taxpaying is “the cost of being an American,” while a man from California said tax avoidance is the equivalent of “shorting the country.”