Saturday, October 11, 2008

Shame on America (Saturday Edition) Sunday: Be A Grown Up About Taxes, Would You?

I don't have very much time because I'm babysitting today and will be rooting on my brother in the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, so here's a special edition of Shame on America Sunday -- the Saturday Edition. I'll make it quick:

Be a grown up about taxes, will you?

That means just shut up and pay them. You don't have to like it. You don't have to pay more than your fair share. But, like getting up and going to work, like pretending to like green beans so the kids will eat them, like all the things adults do that they don't really want to do but if adults don't do them, who will, you have to pay taxes.

Here's why: You like the stuff the government gives you. It's that simple. You don't gripe when the book store makes you pay for your books. You don't try to weasel out of paying the tab when the bartender serves the mojitos. Nobody ever complains about the cost of an ice cream cone.

But everyone whines about taxes and tries to shift them off -- let the corporations pay them -- or avoid them by believing that politicians can hand you money and goodies for free.

Here is one thing you should know: Corporations don't pay taxes. Never have. Never will. Not the small corporation I work for, not Microsoft, not any. I know they file corporate tax returns and those show that they've paid taxes, but those taxes get passed directly on to the person that buys the goods or services the corporation is selling. Sometimes they do it overtly, like when a plumber charged me $30 per hour plus a "fuel surcharge." Sometimes they just charge you more for Windows Vista. So when you say tax the corporations you're saying charge me more money for my mojitos.

Here's another thing you should know: when the government gives you something, it has to pay for it with money from someone else. The government doesn't earn anything. It lives on handouts -- taxes you pay, or money from investors buying treasury bills. Those investors are increasingly foreign investors.

In 2007, according to this article which is easy to find and easier to want to ignore, foreigners owned 80% of the US Treasury notes payable in 3-to-10 years. That means that for the next few years, 80% of the money the US government pays back to investors goes to foreigners.

Is that more comforting than paying taxes? You're still paying them, after all -- the government gets the money to ship to foreign investors by taxing you (or by borrowing more money, but that's for another day.) But the taxes you pay today are increasingly going to pay the money the government borrowed when you didn't want to pay taxes 3 years ago or 7 years ago or 10 years ago.

Your attitude towards taxes, frankly, is this: I don't want to pay for the mojito, so I'm going to ask the bartender to make someone else pay for it. And the next one. And the one after that. And eventually, I hope to be dead before I pay the tab and my kids can pay it.

Well, that's a juvenile attitude. Expecting to get something for free, expecting to get things paid for by other people, postponing the day of reckoning, not dealing with issues, is a juvenile attitude and it is hurting the country. Americans have long passed the point where they could tolerate even the smallest discomfort for the good of the country. Americans don't want to pay taxes and will resoundingly vote down anyone who does not promise to cut taxes. Forget tax increases; forget promising, as the good President Bush did, no new taxes. Today's politicians have to promise to lower taxes -- lower lower lower or they won't get listened to at all.

That attitude: give me stuff for free, make someone else pay, postpone any trouble and don't make me think about bad stuff, is not the attitude that built a cross-country railroad, united the country after the Civil War, fought and won two world wars, and landed a man on the moon.

It is, though, the attitude that demanded that Congress bailout a bunch of companies that probably deserved to go under, the attitude that made Congress borrow another trillion dollars that our kids will have to pay back because America was worried that the price of mojitos might have to be paid in cash, the attitude that just made things immeasurably worse in the future because America didn't want things to be a little hard in the present.

A few weeks ago, Joe Biden pointed out that it's a patriotic thing to do to pay taxes:

What happened? Newsweek told him to "shut up about the taxes." Sarah You Betcha Palin said something in her debate pre-scripted lines about how she didn't want to pay any more taxes.

Biden was, first of all, suggesting that people making over $250,000 pay more taxes. That would exclude over half the country since if you make over $250,000 you make more than the median income in every single city in the country; put another way, it means that no matter where you live, half the people or more make less than $250,000.

Biden was, second of all, right. Paying taxes is patriotic. Paying taxes is right up there with voting and serving in the armed services and the other duties that our country asks of us from time to time.

But Biden was criticized for being right, because Americans don't have even the slightest tolerance for anything even remotely inconvenient or painful.

If we can't bear to pay taxes to pay for the services we want, if we can't bear to suffer through some economic downturns that are part of the natural cycle, if we can't tolerate anything difficult or inconvenient or unpleasant, how are we going to win the War on Terror? How are we going to bring democracy to the world? How are we going to land a man on Mars?

It's time to grow up, America. Adults pay their own bills.

The Fix, and What You Can Do Until The Fix Arrives: The next time you see a politician, tell him or her its okay not to promise cutting taxes. Ask him or her how they're going to pay for the programs they promise. And tell Sarah Palin to shut the heck up.

No comments: