We are all in this together. An expression we hear a a lot these days. And rightly so, as we depend on government to relieve the millions of people and businesses affected by global economic disruption and provide us with the security of vaccination.
Perhaps it’s important to endure a major shock once in a while to remind ourselves of our interdependence. Covid is perhaps the first such event since WWII.
I thought about this recently when reading about the reluctance of certain dot-com billionaires to pay taxes. They make their fortunes, they say, so they should have the right to keep them. That sounds reasonable but it overlooks the fact that we are all in this together.
Who invented the Internet which made it possible for these guys to make those fortunes? Not them. Not the private sector. Various scientists contributed but the first workable prototype was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. And who invented the World Wide Web which opened up the Internet to the public? Again, not the billionaires and not the private sector. It was invented by computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee when he worked at The European Organization for Nuclear Research.
Nobody accomplishes anything on their own. There is always a community, past and present. Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest of scientists, recognized this in his famous metaphor, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton had something that the tax-dodging billionaires lack—humility. One of humanity’s finest minds, responsible for some of humanity’s greatest ideas, he was nonetheless humble enough to recognize that as remarkable as his discoveries were, he was simply building on what others had achieved before him.
Considering that creation of both the Internet and the World Wide Web were funded by government, you might think that simple gratitude would make the billionaires willing to pay their taxes. Paying a royalty, so to speak. And this, of course, is in addition to all the other services government, i.e all of us, provide them, from education to emergency services to highways, that allow them to function.
Will the interdependence of all of us as illustrated by Covid jolt them into recognizing their responsibility to pay their fair share of the tax burden? I doubt it. But it should at least remind the rest of us that taxes are indeed the price of civilization.