Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Hundred Years from Now

Before reading below, please listen to this audio file:



Now the back story. I have this song in my iTunes library, which I generally have playing softly in the background as I work. The music helps drown out any background noise or distractions, and I usually don’t pay much attention to it. But when this song comes on, I often pause and listen to the lyrics and the recitation in the middle, and I ponder. This performance was recorded in spring 1999 by the Northridge (Orem) Elementary School Chorus. Our daughter, Tricia, sang in the chorus, so we attended the performance, and some time afterward I purchased the CD that included the spring concert and the Christmas concert from the previous December. Northridge had two music teachers when our kids attended—Don Harvie, who directed the chorus, and Al Huish, who accompanied on the piano. They pulled this off every year with fifth and sixth graders. Tricia was in the sixth grade in 1998–99. She’s turning thirty this summer (hard to believe) and has three kids of her own. So this song takes me back a bit, in more ways than one. Tricia’s best friend, Chantel, delivered the recitation from the New York Times.
I think the Northridge chorus was shooting for an even hundred years after both the song was written and the Times article appeared, but whoever did the research was a bit off. The Times piece actually appeared on New Year’s Day, 1901. The article was titled “Twentieth Century’s Triumphant Entry” and recounted a celebration on the previous evening, the last New Year’s Eve of the nineteenth century. Of course, the nineteenth century ended on December 31, 1900, not 1899.
The program recounted in the article began at 10:45 in front of New York’s City Hall with an overture by Sousa’s band. Following the overture, Randolph Guggenheimer, president of the city council, addressed the large gathering. Among other things, he spoke the words Chantel recited in the middle of the song. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
The lyrics to the song “A Hundred Years from Now” were written by one E. Spencer in 1899. That’s all I can find on the song and its lyricist. I haven’t been able to locate his first name or anything about him. I’ll copy his lyrics here for reference.

A Hundred Years from Now
by E. Spencer, 1899

I’d like to see this earth again
A hundred years from now,
And walk and talk with living men
A hundred years from now.
I’d like to see how farming’s done,
How business is and how it’s run,
How votes are cast and office won,
A hundred years from now.

Of course there’ll be no wood to burn
A hundred years from now.
There’ll be some tricks of trade to learn
A hundred years from now.
There’ll be big towns and steeples high
And buildings that will scrape the sky
And stores where all the world could buy,
A hundred years from now.

There’ll be machines to shuck the corn
A hundred years from now.
Machines to nurse the babe that’s born
A hundred years from now.
Machines that fly and walk by day,
Machines that work, machines that play,
Perhaps machines to preach and pray,
A hundred years from now.

Whoever E. Spencer was, I’m impressed with how visionary and optimistic he was. Of course we still have wood to burn, but we don’t burn it very much, and we’re moving in the same direction with coal. We’ve found better and cleaner ways to heat our homes. We certainly have big towns and buildings that scrape the sky and stores where all the world can buy. We have machines to shuck the corn and machines to nurse babies. Our third child was born three months premature, and, because of the ventilator tube in his throat, he developed an aversion to swallowing, so he was fed through an NG tube by a machine that pumped formula into his stomach. Yes, we have machines that fly and walk, machines that work and play, and even, I suppose, machines that preach and pray, if you consider the Internet and what is offered there.
Whenever I hear this song, I think about the century both E. Spencer and Randolph Guggenheimer were bidding farewell to. The nineteenth century brought immense progress, primarily in the form of the Industrial Revolution, but it also brought a horrible Civil War that almost tore the country apart even as Americans settled the country from coast to coast. My pioneer ancestors helped settle the Great Basin in the nineteenth century. I imagine that both of these men, looking ahead to a new century, envisioned continued progress, and not just in technological terms, but especially in human terms. Little did they know that their country would experience a devastating depression, two world wars, social upheaval, the Vietnam War, a president who resigned in disgrace, and the rise of international corporate domination that has brought technological marvels as well as a growing inequality that may eventually harm our country more than the Civil War did.
But standing on the doorstep of a new century, they saw a hopeful future. Among other things, this is what Randolph Guggenheimer said:
“Tonight when the clock strikes 12 the present century will have come to an end. We look back upon it as a cycle of time within which the achievements in science and in civilization are not less than marvelous. The advance of the human race during the past 100 years has not been equaled by the progress of man within any of the preceding ages.
“The possibilities of the future for mankind are the subjects of hope and imagination. We shall soon be not only citizens of a Nation recognized throughout the world as the greatest, of a State pre-eminent among States, and of a city not only the metropolis of the Western world, but of the whole world. Our advance in all directions which make a city great already places our city without a parallel in the Western hemisphere, and the same progress continued will make New York without a peer among the cities of the earth, its citizens unequaled in intelligence, in education, and supplied with all the benefits and advantages that flow from civilization.
“On this occasion, which is one of solemnity, I express the earnest wish that the rights of the individual man shall continue to be regarded as sacred, and that the crowning glory of the coming century shall be the lifting of the burdens of the poor, the annihilation of all misery and wrong, and that the peace and good-will which the angels proclaimed shall rest on contending nations as the snowflakes upon the land.”
Guggenheimer aimed high in his wish, and we have failed him in many ways. At present, we are burdening the poor and, in our culture of fear and selfishness, are embracing policies that increase misery and wrong. Spencer, imagining our day, wanted to see “how business is and how it’s run, how votes are cast and office won.” But if he could have seen how some of our businesses are run and how some of our highest elected officials won office, I think he would have asked to have the vision closed.
Maybe we will learn from our mistakes. Maybe when the current period of pessimism and corruption and willful blindness are past, we too can look to a brighter future. Perhaps, if we look past the ugliness of the present, we can find a future as optimistic and as visionary as Spencer’s was. I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Of Witches and Terrorists



I know I told you I was taking a break from blogging, but I couldn’t resist one last post. I hope you’ll see why.
A week ago today, my wife and I, along with thousands of others, were sitting on folding chairs in the 90-degree, muggy New York heat, watching our oldest son (and about 14,500 other students) graduate from Columbia University. After working five years, Matt had gone back to school to earn a master’s degree from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).
For someone whose only commencement experience includes his own high school graduation, the graduation of four children from Timpanogos High in Orem, and, thus far, six BYU graduations (two for me and one each for my wife and our three oldest children), I found that the Columbia graduation exercises represented a fascinating contrast. First, this was the only commencement I have attended that took place outside. The mostly grassy area between the old Low Library and the newer Butler Library was packed with humanity. And New York City, after a stretch of cool, rainy weather, decided to swelter under a heat wave for the almost three days we were there. Wednesday was 90 degrees. Thursday, the day of the SIPA graduation, was 92. But at least the university put up some large canopies on Thursday for the smaller gathering.

The second contrast was simply the tradition. Whereas BYU boasts a history of 142 years (if you count all the years BYA was nothing more than a glorified high school), Columbia turned 263 this year. It was founded in 1754.
The biggest contrast, though, was in the exercises themselves, particularly the speeches. I am used to BYU commencements, where they start with prayer and then proceed with several speakers who are carefully apolitical, usually weaving overt but general religious themes into their remarks. Of course I didn’t expect this at Columbia, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how political and how pointedly relevant to the present moment the speeches were, particularly because Columbia prides itself in its international focus, and the country we now inhabit took a decidedly nationalist turn during the last election cycle.
The processional began at 9:30 with plenty of “Pomp and Circumstance,” because it took more than a full hour for the graduates to file in. This is because even though Columbia has about 2,000 fewer students than BYU, most of them are graduate students, the majority of whom are in two-year master’s programs. So, where BYU has about 6,000 graduates at its spring commencement, Columbia has about 14,500. After everyone was finally seated, the program began with the national anthem and a few “Opening Words” by the university chaplain. Following these opening words, the university president, Lee C. Bollinger, gave the commencement address, the only address on Wednesday, and it was worth the price of admission (slowly simmering in the heat).
After a few introductory and humorous comments, Bollinger began his real message: “Because a graduation signifies such an important moment of achievement and transition in life, it leaves a deep impression on our minds. We also tend to remember vividly the events that were occurring in the world at the time. It is common to hear people say, ‘I graduated when such and such happened.’ Sometimes, what is recounted is fairly momentous; usually, less so. For those of us here today, I doubt that we will ever have trouble remembering what is happening in the world now, or the seriousness of the events coalescing in 2017.
“Just how significant a turning point in world history this will be remains to be seen. But there appears little reason to doubt that this nation and much of the broader world is at an historic juncture. Some see ominous horizons, while others see reason for hope.
“We read and hear daily (here and abroad) about the rise of populist movements, all rooted in nationalist impulses resistant to the continuation of globalization and multilateralism in its many forms—economic (e.g., trade pacts and treaties), political (e.g., the European Union), communications (e.g., the Internet), movements of people (e.g., refugees), and so on. Often this results in the embrace of authoritarian political figures. For many, this represents a foreboding reality. For others, it carries the promise of bringing discipline to growing disorder and awakening stagnant political and social systems desperately in need of fresh ways of thinking.
“I believe passionately that we need new and better ways to address the myriad challenges facing our country and the world, but, for what it’s worth, I share the first perspective—viewing these developments with profound concern.”1
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I share his concern. Bollinger mentioned several difficult issues facing the world, but also identified what he called “the emergence of, and stoking of, a state of anger and fear surrounding them.” He then touched upon what I see as a central concern: “Now, I know it is too much to expect of political discourse that it mimic the measured, self-questioning, rational, footnoting standards of the academy; but there is a difference between robust political debate and political debate infected with fear or panic. The latter introduces a state of mind that is visceral and irrational. In the realm of fear, we move beyond the reach of reason and a sense of proportionality. When we fear, we lose the capacity to listen and can become insensitive and mean.” If anything characterizes the political campaign of Donald Trump, it is those two words. And his insensitivity and meanness have only increased with his ascension to the highest office in the land.
Bollinger addressed the frightening result of allowing fear to dictate our public discourse: “In the First Amendment jurisprudence established over the past century, we find many expressions of the problematic state of mind of fear. Among the most famous and potent is that of Justice Brandeis in Whitney v. California in 1927, one of the many cases involving aggravated fears of subversive threats from abroad. ‘It is the function of (free) speech,’ he said, ‘to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.’ ‘Men feared witches,’ Brandeis continued, ‘and burned women.’ Today, our ‘witches’ are terrorists and Brandeis’s metaphorical ‘women’ include the refugees (mostly children) and displaced persons, immigrants, and foreigners, whose lives have been thrown into suspension and doubt by policies of exclusion.” Fear, he said, prevents us from engaging the world and dealing productively with its challenges. It often demonizes and punishes the innocent, the suffering.
“Columbia University,” he continued, “by our history, our location, and through our active and ongoing efforts, has embraced the responsibility to be an American university with an international scope—at home not just in a great, global city, but in the world.”
It occurred to me that Mormons, of all people, should share President Bollinger’s concerns. Especially since the Church has taken an official stand on the refugee crisis and is nothing if not an international entity. But too many of us are succumbing to ungrounded fears and partisan rhetoric. And in so doing, we contribute to the suffering of the innocent.
Bollinger continued his remarks by addressing “the First Amendment principles of liberty of thought and expression” and how these principles are under assault on some college campuses. “All of this poses a very special obligation on those of us within universities. Not only must we make the case in every venue for the values that form the core of what we are and do, but we must also live up to our own principles of free inquiry and fearless engagement with all ideas. This is why recent incidents on a handful of college campuses disrupting and effectively censoring speakers is so alarming. . . . But now, in this environment especially, universities must be at the forefront of defending the rights of all students and faculty to listen to controversial voices, to engage disagreeable viewpoints, and to make every effort to demonstrate our commitment to the sort of fearless and spirited debate that we are simultaneously asking of the larger society. Anyone with a voice can shout over a speaker; but being able to listen to and then effectively rebut those with whom we disagree—particularly those who themselves peddle intolerance—is one of the greatest skills our education can bestow. And it is something our democracy desperately needs more of. That is why, I say to you now, if speakers who are being denied access to other campuses were to come here, I will personally volunteer to introduce them, and listen to them, however much I may disagree with them. But I will also never hesitate to make clear why I disagree with them.”
Bollinger concluded by challenging the class of 2017 to “rehabilitate public discourse—a discourse that is being profoundly threatened by fear and intolerance”—by “rejecting that fear, and engaging with the world with all its complexity.”
From this point, the heat took over and pretty well numbed my brain. After numerous awards and honorary degrees were handed out, the chair of the Columbia Alumni Association welcomed the 14,500 new alumni into the ranks. Then came the “Conferring of Degrees in Course,” which meant that each of the 18 deans or presidents of the various colleges or schools came to the podium, bragged about their students, and recommended that the university president grant them their respective degrees. These little discourses would have been more entertaining in 70-degree weather, but the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism scooped the other 17 with the best one-liner of the day, claiming that his students were “the alternative to alternative facts.” In the end, more than two and a half hours after the processional started, they sang “Alma Mater,” and the chaplain offered a handful of “Closing Words.”
Then came the recessional, which provided a fun surprise. At Columbia, they don’t recess to the somber and majestic “Pomp and Circumstance.” No, they do it to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” which came off as both cheeky and splendidly appropriate. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” Of course, nothing similar is even thinkable in Provo.
On Thursday, the 750 graduates of the School of International and Public Affairs held their affair, in the shade, thank goodness. The speaker for that graduation ceremony was David Milibrand, a former member of Parliament who is now president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, an organization devoted to rescuing refugees. I’ll spare you the details,2 but of course he blew giant holes in the paranoia that surrounds the refugee crisis. He also pointed out that among the 750 SIPA graduates were representatives of 78 countries, including, significantly, four of the six countries on Trump’s infamous travel ban list, even one from Syria.
All in all, it was a memorable experience. The Big Apple always is. This trip we took it a bit more leisurely, hanging out one evening in Bryant Park, catching a performance of Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre, walking the entire length of Central Park while a crazed driver plowed into crowds in Times Square, taking a tour of the impressive New York Public Library, and dropping by Wall Street and Federal Hall. All that in two and a half days, and it did actually feel leisurely, compared to our previous visits. New York City is one of my favorite cities, and having a son there gave us a good excuse to drop in three times in the last two years.
Whether we make it back probably depends on where he finds work. He’s still looking, so if any of you out there want to hire a particularly bright SIPA graduate with an emphasis in economic policy, you know where to reach me . . .
____________
1. Lee C. Bollinger, “2017 Commencement Address: Bollinger Calls for a Public Discourse Based on Tolerance Rather than Fear,” available at https://www.facebook.com/notes/columbia-university-in-the-city-of-new-york/2017-commencement-address-bollinger-calls-for-a-public-discourse-based-on-tolera/10155071742565269/.
2. You can read them, if you want, at https://www.rescue.org/press-release/commencement-address-rt-hon-david-miliband-president-and-ceo-international-rescue.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Odds and Ends from One Chapter in Martin Harris's Biography



One of the projects I’ve been working on at BYU Studies is the edit of a biography of Martin Harris. All sorts of inadvertent insights can be found in a project like this. Let me offer three as a sampling from one particular chapter.
The first has to do with a phrase in the D&C that’s often misunderstood by today’s Mormons. It appears in three places—section 42, verse 33; section 51, verse 3; and section 82, verse 17.  I’ll quote section 51 here. “Wherefore, let my servant Edward Partridge . . . appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs.” I often hear this expression used to explain that under the law of consecration everyone received as much as they needed and wanted. The only problem with this interpretation is that it assumes a modern meaning for the word wants. Generally, in the early 1800s, this word referred to what a person lacked, not what he or she desired.
To illustrate this usage, let me refer to an experience of Joseph Smith in Kirtland. On December 9, he asked God to bless Noah Packard for his gift of twelve dollars. He then listed others who had given him money. Among these was Martin Harris’s brother Emer, who donated one dollar. Joseph recorded, “My heart swells with gratitude inexpressible when I realize the great condescension of my heavenly Father, in opening the hearts of these my beloved brethren to administer so liberally to my wants. And I ask God, in the name of Jesus Christ, to multiply blessings without number upon their heads” (History of the Church, 2:326–27, emphasis added). Obviously, Joseph wasn’t asking the Lord to bless people for giving him what he wished for. Rather, he was referring to those who had provided what he lacked.
Next insight. About this same time, Martin’s other brother, Preserved (a fascinating name for anyone’s child, by the way), was prosecuted before a Church court because he was fairly well-off and hadn’t been very generous in imparting of his substance to the poor. During the trial, Jared Carter testified that Preserved “has been in a situation to know the liberality of the Saints, being one of a committee to build the Lord’s House. P. Harris donated some, but too little for one who knows & intends to do his duty in this respect—seeing so many loud calls have been given for the rich to assist the poor, he knows . . . that he has [not] assisted.” Joseph Smith testified that he and Oliver Cowdery had called on Preserved and explained the need of assistance to the poor and the purchase of property in Zion. Preserved replied “that he had promised [his wife, Nancy,] that if she would come to this place, he would settle down and not remove again, & therefore he could not help us as we wished in building Zion [in Missouri].” At the conclusion of Joseph Smith’s remarks, the accused was given an opportunity to speak for himself. Preserved said that “he had a considerable [amount of] property in hand—has helped the poor some—got his property by hard work. Some that are liberal with other’s property do not labor to get much to give to the poor themselves; he may have failed in some things, but has done as he felt before God.” After discussion, the council decided that the charges be fully sustained and that “the hand of fellowship is withdrawn from him until he shall see that the course he is pursuing is contrary to the gospel of Jesus” (Kirtland Council Minute Book, June 16, 1836). Preserved did not alter his course and therefore did not remain with the Church. We often hear it explained in our classes and lessons that living the law of consecration was all a matter of free will. Nobody was forced to give up their property. While this may be true in one sense, it is also true that you could be cut off from the body of the Saints for being less generous than the leadership expected, as the case of Preserved Harris indicates.
Final insight. On the evening of December 16, 1835, Joseph attended a debate about gospel topics sponsored by his brother William. At the conclusion of the event, and apparently reacting to the intensity of the exchange of views that had just taken place, Joseph questioned “the propriety of continuing the [debate] fearing that it would not result in good.” A discussion of the issue followed. Feeling reproved, William opposed any such closure and demanded that another gospel question be debated. His demand was refused. Known for his volatile temper, William physically attacked his brother Joseph. The assault required that Joseph be rescued by others in attendance. William was brought before the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, of which he was a member. After confessing his error, he told them, “It would be better for them to appoint one, in the office, that would be better able to fill it.” He wrote a letter of apology to Joseph and repeated his willingness to withdraw from office. “You know my passions and the danger of falling from so high a station,” he wrote. “I feel afraid, if I don’t do this, it will be worse for me some other day.” Joseph responded with his own letter, writing, “You desire to remain in the Church, but forsake your Apostleship. This is the stratagem of the evil one. . . . But by maintaining your Apostleship, in rising up and making one tremendous effort, you may overcome your passions and please God” (History of the Church, 2:334–35, 338–44).
It occurred to me when I read this that in today’s Church, with our sensitivity to the Protestant notion of grace, we would expect Joseph to counsel William to repent of his sins and rely on the saving grace of Jesus to lift him above his weakness. But in Joseph’s theology, apparently through “tremendous effort” we can overcome our passions and please God. I don’t know quite what to make of this, because I have had very little success with either program. But I find it intriguing that Joseph seemed to view herculean effort sufficient to reform our flaws and place ourselves in better standing with God. This seems at odds with our current theology of grace.
* * *
Let me mention here that I am going to take a bit of a break from blogging for a season. I am working on a couple of other writing projects (one being a novel) that I need to devote more time to. So, when things slow down a bit, I’ll resume a more regular blogging schedule. Thanks for your interest in my musings.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Let's Talk Taxes



Since it’s income tax day, let’s talk taxes. Of course nobody likes to pay taxes, but for Republicans, taxes are one of the great evils of the world (in spite of all the stuff they want to spend money on). And since they are in control in Washington, they are threatening tax reform once again, and if they can get the Freedom Caucus to fall in line, maybe they’ll be able to inflict some damage. And I mean damage.
You might remember last time the Republicans were in charge, we paid for two wars and Medicare Part D with tax cuts. I think that’s what they call “fiscal conservatism.” The arithmetic doesn’t work out very well, but if you get the ideology right, who cares about the math? There are always Paul Ryan’s magic asterisks to make all the numbers add up, sort of.
Then we had the Great Recession, which pumped up the debt to truly impressive levels. Of course, Obama came into office in the middle of this mess, so of course the Republicans tried to pin all the debt on him. The truth, of course, is that in a recession, you need government to step in and keep the ship afloat, and with so many people unemployed, tax revenues also drop precipitously, all of which creates more debt. Nevertheless, the “deficit scolds,” as Paul Krugman calls them, were out in force. The big issue for Republicans all during Obama’s first term and half of the second was the massive debt that was drowning America. What they never would admit is that if we hadn’t added a good deal of stimulus when things were awful, it would have gotten a lot worse. Obama generally gets very high marks for his handling of the economy during the late Great Recession. But accumulating debt under those circumstances is pretty much unavoidable.
Now that the economy is humming along, though, we should be trying to build up a surplus. You’d think that would be a high priority for so-called fiscal conservatives. Instead, what do we hear from the Republicans? Well, Trump wants a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure. This would actually be a good idea. Our infrastructure is crumbling. But how do the Republicans propose to pay for this (and other conservative priorities, such as building up an already bloated military and constructing a totally unnecessary wall on half of our southern border)? You guessed it. With tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy. Is anyone surprised by this? Of course not. It’s how Republicans operate. They accuse the Democrats of “tax and spend.” All I can say is that “tax and spend” makes a whole lot more sense than “cut taxes and spend.” For some reason, when the Republicans are in power, the debt doesn’t seem to matter at all. Oh, Trump wants to slash spending in important but relatively inexpensive departments and agencies, but all those savings would go to the military, so the net effect is zero. And this week he has actually admitted that repealing Obamacare is really about setting the stage for “tax reform.” It’s not about providing health care for Americans. It’s about tax cuts. At least he’s honest about one thing.
I do agree with the deficit scolds in principle, if not in either timing or methodology. Our debt is too high and can and should be reduced. But it cannot be reduced through tax cuts. That is just obstinacy and absurd ideology and arithmetic deficiency. To put this in some sort of historical perspective, let’s look at top marginal tax rates over time. To save space, I will list only the years when the rate changed.
1940
81.0%
1942
88.0%
1944
94.0%
1946
86.45%
1948
82.13%
1950
84.36%
1951
91.0%
1952
92.0%
1954
91.0%
1964
77.0%
1965
70.0%
1968
75.25%
1969
77.0%
1970
71.75%
1971
70.0%
1981
69.13%
1982
50.0%
1987
38.5%
1988
28.0%
1991
31.0%
1993
39.6%
2001
39.1%
2002
38.6%
2003
35.0%
2013
39.6%

A couple of things are obvious. First, when we needed to pay off our World War II debt, we weren’t afraid to require more of the wealthy. Second, if you look at the national debt, it predictably began to rise with the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s that took our top marginal rate from almost 70 percent to 28 percent. And once you cut taxes, it is extremely difficult to increase them. In spite of the massive debt, we’ve managed only a measly 4.6 percent increase in the past 14 years.
Hidden in this simplified chart are the myriad tax loopholes that combine with these nominal rates to produce effective tax rates for the wealthy that are quite a bit lower than these figures. Additionally, the capital gains tax rate is 15 percent, which applies to a large share of the income earned by the wealthy. This is why Warren Buffett complained about paying a lower tax rate than his secretary.
So, if we were really serious about reining in our massive national debt, we would enact laws to affect three different elements of the tax code. We would (1) increase top marginal rates to at least pre-Reagan levels, (2) get rid of loopholes that skew the system in favor of the wealthy, and (3) increase the capital gains rate to at least 35 percent, preferably higher. If you think this is drastic, well, just look at the debt we’ve accumulated by playing the silly supply-side game. We’ve been at it for 35 years now, and it doesn’t work. Time to deep-six this awful legacy of Ronald Reagan.
Now, another point about taxes. One piece of misinformation we hear quite often is that Americans are overtaxed compared to other countries. This is simply not true. The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) keeps track of total tax revenue in participating countries as a percentage of GDP. Here are the figures for 2015 (except for Australia, Japan, and Poland, which were unavailable, so I inserted 2014 figures).

Australia
27.8
Austria
43.5
Belgium
44.8
Canada
31.9
Chile
20.7
Czech Republic
33.5
Denmark
46.6
Estonia
33.6
Finland
44.0
France
45.5
Germany
36.9
Greece
36.8
Hungary
39.4
Iceland
37.1
Ireland
23.6
Israel
31.4
Italy
43.3
Japan
32.0
Korea
25.3
Latvia
29.0
Luxembourg
37.0
Mexico
17.4
Netherlands
37.8
New Zealand
32.8
Norway
38.1
Poland
32.1
Portugal
34.5
Slovak Republic
32.3
Slovenia
36.6
Spain
33.8
Sweden
43.3
Switzerland
27.9
Turkey
30.0
United Kingdom
32.5
United States
26.4
OECD Average
34.3

As you can see, of the 35 member countries, only Chile, Ireland, Korea, and Mexico pay lower taxes, on average, than Americans. We pay 7.9 percent less than the OECD average. We want government to do lots of stuff for us. We just don’t want to pay for it. So we’re not really overtaxed. We are 3.4 percent higher than we were in 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession, but that was an anomaly.
Finally, I can’t let income tax day pass without bringing up the fact that Donald Trump has broken his promise to release his tax returns. Of course his statements over time are a moving target. Now he claims that Americans don’t care, but a recent poll says otherwise. Three-quarters of those polled want him to release his returns. And there is probably good reason why he never will. It may have a lot to do with the Russian connection. We’ll really never know unless Congress, which has the power to do so, requests them from the IRS. Of course, this will never happen as long as Trump’s enablers control both houses of Congress. But the way things are going, that could change in 2018. Stay tuned.
Oh, and happy income tax day.