Carolina Rodrigues Finette ■ Our future is public, and tax justice can get us there

People walk across a road crossing in a city on a bright day

Today is Public Services Day, and I’m remembering as a child listening to my family complain about how supposedly bad public services in Brazil were. These services were costly too, they would say, costing you “double” the price of access: you’d pay taxes for the public provision of services that you wouldn’t use and then pay again for the private provision that you did use. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you.

This view of our public services was always a big question mark in the back of my mind, especially when I would hear in the news that the Brazilian public health system is one of the biggest in the world, or that our public universities are consistently ranked among the best in Latin America, and so on. How could these two contrasting realities be true?

Public services form the backbone of a healthy, functioning society. They include essential services such as healthcare, education, transportation and social security. These services are vital for ensuring that all members of society, regardless of their economic status, have access to basic needs and opportunities for personal and professional growth. High-quality public services contribute to social stability, reduce inequality and promote well-being.

Despite their importance, many public services are underfunded. Governments around the world have increasingly resorted to austerity measures, which involve cutting public spending to reduce budget deficits. These cuts often hit the most vulnerable populations hardest, leading to overcrowded hospitals, under-resourced schools and inadequate social support systems.

In these scenarios, privatisation is often presented as a solution to the funding gaps in public services. However, privatisation poses significant risks. One of the risks associated with eliminating public, free access is the potential for a vicious downward spiral, where reliance on out-of-pocket services increasingly extorts more expenditure. As fees are hiked, individuals may find themselves trapped in debt due to false diagnoses, especially in worst-case scenarios within the healthcare sector.

Privatisation processes often prioritise profit over people, leading to reduced quality and accessibility of services. Those who benefit most from privatisation are typically private corporations and wealthy individuals rather than the general public. The interests of the rich are often at odds with the need for high-quality public services, as privatisation can lead to higher costs for users and lower wages for workers.

It is crucial to have a reliable and adequate funding mechanism to ensure the long-term sustainability and quality of public services. This involves creating a tax system where those with the most contribute the most. Progressive taxation ensures that wealthy individuals and multinational corporations contribute a fair share of their income to the public good. Such a system can generate the necessary revenue to support and improve public services, benefiting all members of society.

Tax justice is our social-superpower and a critical component in addressing the funding challenges public services face. By ensuring that the wealthy and corporations pay appropriate taxes, governments can secure the resources needed to fund essential services without resorting to austerity or harmful privatisation measures.

Tax justice can:

  • Expand revenue, ensuring that the tax system generates sufficient revenue to fund public services adequately.
  • Promote redistribution by using progressive taxation to reduce inequality by redistributing wealth from the rich to the rest of society.
  • Reprice products to discourage harmful activities (like pollution) and encourage beneficial ones (like renewable energy investments) by adjusting taxes.
  • Support representation by ensuring that all citizens, especially those in marginalised communities, have a voice in how tax revenues are spent, promoting transparency and accountability.
  • Promote reparation by using tax policy to address historical injustices and colonial legacies.

Our future is public, and ensuring tax justice is pivotal for the sustainable provision of high-quality public services. By adopting a fair and progressive tax system, we can generate the necessary funds to support healthcare, education, infrastructure and social security. It fosters a sense of community, ensures that everyone pays their fair share, and helps to build a society where no one is left behind. By embracing tax justice, we can lay the foundation for a more equitable future where public services are the cornerstone of a just and inclusive world.

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