Oliver Wendell Holmes, former Justice of the United States Supreme Court, once said, "Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society." Although people work hard to meet their needs and the needs of their families, there are some things they cannot purchase themselves. For example, the taxes paid to state and local jurisdictions help pay for police and fire protection. These taxes also pay for the operation of the local governments, and for local recreation areas such as parks and other public facilities.
On the national level, federal income taxes help pay for defense for the country. They also pay for capital facilities such as highways and other transportation services, and to help those who are poor or ill. These are all services that individual citizens cannot purchase the way they can buy food and clothing and the other necessities of life. When people live together in a society, all of its citizens bear the cost of providing such services. Taxes are the means by which the society raises the money to cover these public costs.
The United States Department of the Treasury has a number of fact sheets that can help people better understand the various taxes imposed in the United States. These include: Economics of Taxation explains how taxes support government services and benefit the country's citizens. Writing and Enacting Tax Legislation explains the process for developing and passing legislation into law.
In addition, Lesson 1.5 of the Yes, You Can Curriculum includes classroom examples of how taxes are collected and used by the various jurisdictions.
Source: Adapted from United States Department of the Treasury.