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Trees can teach us all about taxes

The Grass is Greener

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POSTED: October 25, 2012 7:00 a.m.

An extension agent applies biology to the practical world of plants, animals and people. Biology is the result of the practical application of biochemistry to the world. Biochemistry is the practical application of chemistry to life. Chemistry is the practical application of physics to the real world, and physics is the practical application of mathematics to the real world.

We wind up realizing that there are universal laws that apply to everything. Like gravity. It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. Gravity is a fact and acts on everything in the same predictable way.

Inevitably, we find commonalities throughout nature. For instance, consider the heme molecule at the center of the hemoglobin in our blood that captures oxygen and carbon dioxide. At the center of the heme molecule is an iron atom. When iron is oxidized it is red. When we are cut, our blood is exposed to oxygen in the air and turns bright red. The rust on iron and steel is red because the iron atoms are red when they are oxidized. When aluminum rusts, or is oxidized, the rust is white. When magnesium is oxidized it turns green. So does copper.

As it turns out, the heme molecule is identical to the chlorophyll molecule in plants except that in plants the iron atom is replaced by a magnesium atom. Iron is why blood is red and magnesium is why plants are green. Heme captures oxygen and carbon dioxide electrically and chlorophyll captures light energy electrically. They perform similar functions. We share most of the same energy pathways and enzymes with plants and animals. It’s a good thing, too. Otherwise we could not eat them. Our bodies could not use them for nourishment. We are much more alike than we are different.

I have written earlier that trees are an excellent business model in that they accumulate capital, invest risk capital, allocate resources among several different functions and change those allocations based on changes in their environment. In forestry, we know on a good site — where the water, soil, mineral supply, sunlight and microorganisms are adequate — a tree will allocate 75 percent of its energy to the aerial part of the tree and 25 percent to the roots. In the roots, 10 of that 25 percent stays with the roots of the tree while the other 15 percent is used to pay the mycorrhizal fungi (buddy fungi) that supply the roots with water, minerals and growth regulators.

One can think of it like 25 percent taxes that trees pay for anchorage and supply of raw materials. In our community, one can think of it as 25 percent of income going to taxes to pay for needed government services. Ten percent of the taxes pay for the permanent government employees (the roots) while 15 percent goes to pay for services provided by subcontractors who bid on government jobs (the mycorrhizal fungi).

As the quality of sites decline, trees shunt more and more of their energy into the root system, leaving less and less energy available for growth of the tree trunk and canopy. This continues until the tree is shunting as much as half its energy into the root system. These trees are uncompetitive and are quickly shaded out by species more adapted to the site. Fifty percent in taxes is too much for even a tree to pay, but they are quite happy and productive paying 25 percent.

A couple years ago, I heard a report of a survey of Americans asking them what rate of taxes they would willingly pay for government services. The answer came back universally to be 25 percent. People think a quarter of their income to pay for government services is right. That is not just for the federal government’s share — that is for the whole ball of wax: federal, state and local income tax, sales tax, property tax, ad valorem taxes, fuel taxes, business taxes, death taxes. All of it.

Now compare where we are today and one can easily tally an excess of 50 percent in cumulative tax rate. I wonder if this comparison is just circumstantial and spurious or is it a thump on the head that we are unwisely violating natural law? Is man part of this world or are we not subject to natural law?

I’m just Lo Lee, the ag agent applying the biology I see to the practical world of plants, animals and people.

Gardner is the University of Georgia extension agent for Glynn County serving South Bryan.

 

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