I often hear people claim that their tax dollars shouldn’t go to this or that thing because they will never use it or they think it’s a waste of money.
For example, they might say that tax dollars shouldn’t finance an art gallery or in-vitro fertilization or gender studies degrees.
The typical response seems to be that we all pay a little into the system so that we spread out the cost of the services we consume, so that those who do use the services directly don’t have to pay so much.
And while that’s true, there’s also another reason, one that I don’t think gets talked about enough.
When we directly consume a public service, we receive a direct benefit: getting an education increases our knowledge, seeing the doctor improves our health, driving on a road gets us to work faster, and so on.
But there’s a social benefit, as well, to consuming public services, where society benefits in general and we benefit indirectly.
For example, public schools teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic means that the local barista can understand your daily coffee order, that the framer who built your house knows how to calculate measurements, and the baker who made your sandwich bread understands how to add and multiply fractions.
A public healthcare system means that the grocery store clerk checking your groceries probably won’t have a communicable disease, your grandma can live into her 90s, and your best friend recovers from her heart attack.
A public transportation network means that the restaurant where you eat, the pub where you drink, and the gym where you work out get all the supplies they need.
And even when cultural and recreational initiatives are funded, it means that people can have enriched lives. When your doctor can watch a hockey game, your accountant can go to the opera, your mechanic can hang out at the park, it improves their mental and emotional health, which means that the services they provide for you can be of a higher quality.
And the list goes on.
Whether it’s public utilities, public waste management, public emergency services, or the countless other public services we have access to, properly funding them results in a better society and benefits us in both direct and indirect ways.