TAX RAGE

Every year I think about writing this post exactly once. It happens when I mail a check to the IRS.

Even though we have essentially the lowest rates of taxation in the industrialized world, incessant bitching about taxes seems to be an American birthright. Some people allow it to take over their lives until they become, at best, unpleasant, consistent and predictable ranters in the office break room. At worst they become "tax protesters" who divide their time between tar paper shacks in Idaho and Federal courtrooms.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said "Taxes are the price we pay for civilization." That sums up the way I feel. Due to peculiarities in the manner in which grad students are paid at my University and a pair of very active online trading accounts, I inevitably end up owing Uncle Sam several hundred dollars annually. I don't like paying it. You could even say I dislike it. I often utter profanities as I write the check. But you know what? I put it in the mail and proceed to get the fuck over it.

The fact that millions of my countrymen are unable to do so is, well, sad. I pity them. The amount of energy they waste and the amount of time they spend being pissed off about this is as unfortunate as it is illogical. The ideology of the Tax Bitcher seems to imply that without taxes and their accompanying rage he or she would be happier. The older I get, the more I doubt that.

Tax rage is just a symptom of how the (largely white) middle and upper-middle classes react to the steady erosion of the American Dream(tm) since the 1960s. No one understood the proper formula for political success in this era and with this demographic better than Ronald Reagan: pick something that angry white people are predisposed to dislike and blame it for their fading prosperity. The statement "_________ is/are taking all of your money" may be Ronnie's greatest legacy. It works with just about any convenient target. Welfare queens. Government. Immigrants. The liberal media. Black people. Any noun will do in a pinch.

People buy so heavily into a system and a way of life, even though it regularly fucks them, that they're willing to defend it more viciously than those who actually benefit from it. Explaining one's miserable, unhappy, unprosperous life by confronting the systemic flaws and rampant inequality built into our society is emotionally difficult after a lifetime of defending it. Picking a target and blaming the hell out of is easy. All it requires is a willing suspension of rationality, as if dropping the Tax Bitcher's burden from 28% to 20% would solve all of his problems and lead to non-stop, rainbows-out-the-ass happiness.

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8 Responses to “TAX RAGE”

  1. Kulkuri Says:

    Among the many things that I blame Ronnie for is saying "Government is not the answer, Government is the problem." He also made Greed not only acceptable but desirable. He also went on and on about "Welfare Queens" driving around in their Caddys. What really pisses me off is the Reich-wing has everyone convinced that unless we get rid of the so-called "Death-tax" that when they die the IRS will take everything they own. When in reality less than 1% have to pay Inheirtance Taxes.

  2. JDryden Says:

    I admit that the degree to which "taxing the rich" has been successfully redefined as "punishing the successful" just takes my breath away. The thing that nobody seems to wrap his/her mind around is that, short of lining them up behind the guillotine, you *can't* really dick over the rich. Because, you see, *they're rich.* No one who's rich has ever–ever–been taxed into a state of non-rich. A billionaire who loses 90% of his wealth is still worth $100 million, which is still enough to, you know, comfortably get by on. Ultimately, Reagan and other conservatives have sold us on the notion that we're owed, rather than that we owe–that somehow paved roads and firefighters and an army just kind of magically pay for themselves. The Great Lie, of course, is that government spending–and thus the *need* for taxes–tends to go up during the administrations of so-called tax-cutters. We went nuts over out-spending the Commies during Ronnie's term, a plan that arguably worked except for the part about people being willing to *pay* for it. And Bush has proven that the reason he kept running businesses into the ground before getting into politics is that as Spending goes up, Income must keep pace. If he keeps cutting us all checks–and hey, I'll admit, I'm cashing mine–while losing billions upon billions upon billions in Iraq, um–isn't this how the Athenian empire fell?

  3. Matthew Says:

    "Simpson, you idiot! You spent your entire budget in a month!"

    "D'oh! Wait, I've got an idea!"

    "You'd better, because those garbagemen aren't going to work for free."

    "D'oh!"

    Sorry, but I was reminded of his conversation by "somehow paved roads and firefighters and an army just kind of magically pay for themselves." Thanks, J!

  4. Christina Says:

    Tax rage is just a symptom of how the (largely white) middle and upper-middle classes react to the steady erosion of the American Dream(tm) since the 1960s.

    And which parts of the American Dream have eroded? Home ownership? Crime? Standard-of-living? Comfort? No, it's the part where (largely white) folks get to pretend they are better than those other people, get to be paid more than those other people just for being white (and male), get to have the job to begin with before those other people are hired just because they are white (and male), get to treat other people any ol' way because those other people are Not-whites and not-males.

    So Reagan was genius in equating that tax dollars were going to those not-whites and not-males and often to Not-White Not-Males, ZOMG!!eleven! Donald Regan even said as much. By convincing the middle class that Those People were getting something they didn't earn or deserve, he got lots of folks to sign off on "tax cuts" but used the bait and switch to give those cuts to the rich.

    But racism and sexism aren't problems in America anymore. We don't need to talk about it. /snark.

  5. j Says:

    to Christina– Which american dream are you talking about?
    1) Get Educated
    2) Work Hard
    3) Be a Bigot
    4) You'll Get What You Want
    One of these is not like the other.

    There are certainly problems with the allocation of resources in america. But
    even if you are a white male like me you still have to work hard and sacrifice to get what you want.

    That is, you have to work hard if you don't inherit everything. And I think THAT is Ed's erosion of the American Dream, that more and more people are inheriting their wealth rather than generating it themselves from scratch like all the immigrants a hundred years ago. Everyone had to bust their ass. Nowadays, an uneven playing field makes all the players not play as hard.

    And remember that bigotry was much worse a hundred years ago. Thankfully, that is eroding also, but not as rapidly as it should.

  6. Megan H Says:

    I tend to view taxes in the same way and whenever I get a little frustrated over paying in (this year I owed >$2K thanks to grant funding that wasn’t taxed upfront) I remind myself to be thankful that I’m not paying Kenyan taxes. Most employed Kenyans must pay 30% of their income to a bloated, corrupt and inefficient government that provides very few services to speak of (they just got “free” primary education, but schools can’t operate on the small allowances and are charging fees anyway). What’s worse is they are just processing 2004 returns now, so if you are due a rebate, you might see it in 5 years…

  7. Christina Says:

    J–

    Get Educated: And who has the resources, on average, to "get educated"? Who goes to schools that allow one, on average, to go to places where they can get educated?

    Work Hard: Please. No one works harder than the poor and unfortunately, still to this day, the Af-Am community is predominantly and disproportionately poor and the Horatio Alger bullshit hasn't worked for them, now or ever. It's a myth. And pointing to the outliers who somehow beat the system bent against them as "proof that it's true" is a logical fallacy and dishonest and is done all too often in national discussion, IMO.

    As a white male and even a white female, we have advantages that POC do not have. We have privilege and assumptions that work in our favor. The lack of that benefit of the doubt works against POC getting the opportunity to work hard and build wealth in the first place. The American Dream has always and continues largely to be not for Them. Our inheritance and property laws, along with discrimination in jobs and housing, have historically made sure that POC do not have an inheritance to pass down while 'immigrants', even the Irish, Italians and Greeks no matter how hated, did and could therefore become "white" given enough time.

    For example, I play just as hard–perhaps a bit less–than some folks I know. But when I go for a car loan, I get a lower interest rate. My friend gets a subprime interest rate. When I go for a mortgage, I get prime, my friend gets subprime. We have the same FICO score. This is not a hundred years ago.

    While it might be motivating to see how far we've come, it's irrelevant to the equation of where we are and where we want to go as a society, assuming of course that an egalitarian society is the one we want. For some reason in some circles, there's an idea that giving someone a hand up to where we are means taking something away from us–a zero sum game. And for those people, talking about "State's Rights" in Philadelphia, MS and invoking the Welfare Queen works despite the fact that more white women are on welfare than black women. Even white women on welfare voted for someone saying they'll put a stop to the handouts to the Welfare Queens b/c they knew that Reagan wasn't talking about them.

    It is impossible to talk about money, poverty, inheritance, taxes or the unwillingness of some to pay those taxes without talking about race. It is a large factor in all of those things in the US.

  8. SarahBurns Says:

    Interesting article, but I'm still upset that I have to pay taxes this year. Somehow I managed to get $125 back from the federal return, but I owe $225 to the state. I've been looking for full-time work for over a year now and earn less than $8/hour at my part-time job. This puts me in one of the lowest tax and income brackets.

    Part of me is happy that I'm contributing to the system, but the other part of me wonders how I'm going to buy food, pay rent, and pay bills in April when I'm struggling to do those things already. It would be nice to see some improvements to our system.