Saturday, March 17, 2018

Filed Away

I have now officially filed my tax returns.

Every year I do this, as required by law, and it’s always the same routine.  I spend a day beating my skull against the wall of financial regulation (what does that bit of money qualify as, again?  is this a 401b or an XR4TI or an Illudium Q36 Space Modulator? and how does that determine what line to put it down on?) with the help of the latest software assistant, and every year I end up with the same revelations.

First, that we made more money than we thought.  It doesn’t matter how much money the actual income was – I’ve had the same thought since I was filing 1040EZ forms to report my income from the summer job at 7/11 that I had in college – it’s always more than we thought, because where did it go?  We don’t seem to have much of it left over, and it’s not like we’re living in the lap of luxury over here. 

Second, that we owe a pile of money.  As a half-time academic advisor and the adjunct historian on call here at Home Campus, my income is, shall we say, variable, and Kim is always finding new projects to do that someone will pay her for.  Between those two facts there is a valley labeled “Exemptions?  What Exemptions?”  It’s been years since we’ve guessed correctly on that score, and so of late there is always a bill to pay at the end of the year. 

Although this year we pegged Wisconsin right on the nose – no bill, no refund – which felt pretty good, I have to say, especially since last year they lost my check and there was Much Unpleasantness on both sides about that.

And third, that I don’t really mind paying that money.  Oh sure, I could always use it for more books or Buffalo wings or similar items that make my world a brighter place, but I am not lacking for such things as it is.  As a devotee of library sales, for example, I now have several bags’ worth of books in my to-read pile that collectively cost me less than a cheeseburger meal at my local fast food joint, and as I get older I find that I have to space out the Buffalo wings anyway as I love the hot and spicy far more than my body does anymore.  I do have a Wings Buddy and we try to get together every so often for wings and conversation, but neither of us has much free time to speak of so it doesn’t happen often enough and the only positive thing about that fact is that my budget for such things doesn’t have to be all that large.

No, I don’t mind paying my taxes because I Am Not Stupid.

We have forgotten the concept of “enlightened self-interest” here in the New Gilded Age and have confused “self-interest” with “selfishness.”  There is an entire population in this country who seriously thinks that greed and egoism is the only moral standard for any activity, the only basis for an economy, and the only way politics can be organized.  They are many, they are loud, they are ignorant, and they are in power – all of which means that the future of this nation as a republic and as a world leader is currently rather dim.

Short-sighted greed is no way to run anything, folks.

You need to take a long view.  You need to understand that even if you choose not to examine the moral aspects of creating and sustaining a community – and harsh experience has taught me that the only thing I get from discussing morality with anyone from that population is older – your own self-interest comes from making short-term sacrifices for long-term gain.  I am better off when my neighbors are better off, and if I cling tightly to my lucre while monotonously chanting “taxation is theft!” and fondling my Big Bad Firearm, then nobody wins.

Taxation is the price you pay for civilization.

Those who tell you otherwise are telling you a great deal about themselves, really.


Random Michelle K said...

My taxes went out as soon as we had our official forms.

Because we have no offspring, we decided ages ago it was better for both of us to claim zero for dependents, and just get a refund come tax time. That works great for the feds, but since WV hasn't revised it's tax code since, possibly, we became a state, we always owe money to the state.

Except this year. Apparently me not working means we got money back from the state, and it was MORE THAN A DOLLAR.

That said, I *never* complain about taxes, except for wishing that WV would revise their tax code. But that's not complaining about paying. That's complaining that the whole thing is a damned mess.

So I don't complain about taxes.

Because I like roads. And public schools. And public safety. And public health.

My state is in a heap o' trouble financially, and jerks like my MiL's newest husband who changed their residency to Fla because there is no income tax there make me INCANDESCENT WITH RAGE.

As a society we are to help all people, not just the people who happen to go to the same church or belong to the same religious group. Not just the people with the same skin color or who live in the same affluent area.

All the people.

Because that kid whose education you're shorting IS going to be responsible for your welfare some day soon. And he'll most likely remember how you can society treated him.


David said...

I should have done mine earlier - we're on the IRS's "We think someone might have tried to hack your tax return a while back so here's a PIN for when you e-file and yes you will e-file even if you don't want to" list - but I just didn't want to look at the bill until I had to.

The thing I find bizarre is that I can be taxed by two separate states for the same income, or taxed by one state for income earned in another. Oh well. I gave up fighting that one a long time ago, especially since the amounts were small. The increment was not worth the excrement.

But I do like roads. And schools. And cops and firefighters. And a social safety net that really ought to be more inclusive. And all the things that a civilized society provides to its members, that our own society is trying so hard to strip away here in the New Gilded Age.

KimK said...

Michelle, I love your rant! 100% Yes.

James A. Brown said...

I engaged in a (futile) online debate with someone who screamed, "Who WANTS to pay taxes? NOT ME!"

The idea was that taxes were like disease. We may put up with it, but no one wants it, and the idea that anyone would adopt a new tax to solve a problem was anathema to him.

I replied, "Who WANTS to buy food? NOT ME! I want to eat what I want for free. Who WANTS to pay for housing? NOT ME! I want to live in my house for free"

I'm quite sure he didn't get the point. But taxes are not a disease. They are a means of purchasing goods and services that I can't obtain on my own--I can't build roads and help the indigent and protect my family from enemies foreign and domestic. So everyone pitches in and we get those things done. My only concern with paying taxes is that we taxpayers get good value for our money.

Sure, we can overpay taxes, which may get wasted or diverted into the wrong person's pockets. Just like I might overpay for the house I live in or the groceries I buy. So it behooves me to carefully track my spending to make sure I'm receiving good value--whether that be for a head of lettuce, an apartment unit, or a new elementary school.

The alternative is some Lord of the Flies scenario, where it's every man for himself, where the strong eat the weak until the whole world burns down around our heads. No, thank you.

David said...

I have to confess that I have largely given up online debates these days, for precisely that reason. All I ever get out of them is older.

And you're absolutely correct - taxes are not a disease. The hysterical reaction to taxes might well be - it certainly seems to have spread like an epidemic through vast portions of the American population - but that's different.

The problem with far too many of the "taxation is a disease!" people is that yes they do want to see the Lord of the Flies scenario. That's what libertarianism means, after all.

LucyInDisguise said...

Our refund was direct-deposited on February 9th, roughly 3 days after our e-file was accepted by the IRS. (I hate waiting to get my money refunded) (Is anybody over at Wally World listening???)

And, to what those before have said, I’d like to add the following:

We live in NV, not because there is no state income tax, but because there is no religiously sponsored / controlled state government. Our state has no income tax because we CAN do the MATH, but Y’all are welcome in our casinos any time. (Preferably those in Lost Wages or Dingo)

My wife, as noted previously in other posts, is a Viking. A few years back, two of her cousins came to the States to visit, and we had an opportunity to compare notes. Sue’s cousin’s husband is also a Professional Driver and earns (roughly) a comparable annual income. His net is around 40% of what appears on my paychecks, and I would love to trade paychecks with him.

But (there’s always a butt, isn’t there?),

Only if I get the same deals from our Government as they do, e.g.: Free Healthcare. Free Education (through 4 years of college), Public transportation, Unfettered ability to live life as an adult, and the full list of benefits that I have to pay for out-of-pocket. A straight up comparison yielded the fact that very close to 60% of his net pay is disposable income, whereas not quite 18% of mine is disposable.

Hell yeah. I’ll pay more in taxes. Happily. Just fix this mess so it works like Denmark (or just about any of the EU countries.) (Or even Canada.)

On the other topic, I only do online debates if I’m allowed to troll. At least then there is a modicum of entertainment value to me …

Primary On-Line Debate Strategy: You can't win, it is impossible to break even - so you may as well play to lose. And make it spectacular! The kind of loss they'll still be talking about years after your death.


David said...

I used to enjoy trolling the trollable, but I have to say it's lost a lot of lustre for me. There are just too many Dunning-Kruger poster children out there for me anymore - you can score all the points you want and they still can't recognize when they've lost, let alone be talking about it after you've left the building. Sigh.

And yes, I'd happily pay more in taxes to get the services those taxes purchase in enlightened places such as Scandinavia. I will have to remember your analysis of disposable incomes for future reference, next time I get into that discussion.

The kinds of taxes are not necessarily the issue. If a government can adequately fund itself with "sucker taxes" on gamblers, then so be it. But I strongly believe that those who derive benefit from a community (as even the most off-grid militia wannabes do) should give back to it, and a graduated income tax is one of the most effective way to make that happen. The point remains, though - taxation is the price of civilization.

LucyInDisguise said...

To the first point, "trolling the trollable", allow me to clarify: I no longer even try to score. I head right for the 30-meter diving board, do a double one and a half reverse gainer into the empty pool and enjoy the ride all the way down. Remember, you have to aim for "Spectacular!".

To the second, perspicuously, the type of taxes is not the point. In Denmark*, and this is really the only other system that I've become at all familiar with, the average income earner pays roughly 45% in income taxes. Americans would throw an apoplectic fit at the mere suggestion.

(And I'm going to let that point sit right there for a few moments to see if any lights come on ...)

And while there is a heavy "tax on those who can't do the math" it is not a "sucker tax" per se. It's actually a tax on the obscene profits that the casino owners make. The "Tax/Math" is kinda an inside joke - Gamers don't actually pay any sort of tax, but if you are putting your money into gaming with any expectation other than losing it, you, self evidently, can not do the math - and at that point, you voluntarily pay a penalty for not paying attention in school. :D

And actually, gaming only accounts for 40% of total revenue in Nevada. The balance comes from Mining, Ranching, and business (something other states and the feds could learn to do better).

* Here's a good, short, easy to read article:

David said...

Well, as long as you're doing it purely for your own entertainment, then I say troll away! Sometimes you just have to rattle people's cages just to keep yourself awake.

I've only ever been inside two casinos, and only one when I was actually old enough to do more than just hang out with friends (we took a road trip to Atlantic City one night when I was in college, and it was exactly as seedy as it sounds, though a good time was had). And you're right - you have to see it as "spending" money, not "gambling" money. I went in with $20, headed over to the nickel slots, and kept playing until the money ran out. It took about an hour, and since I collect coins I did manage to pull out a few good ones from the intermittent jackpots that they give you to keep you playing. And when the money ran out, so did I. Not a bad way to spend $20, I thought, but it was definitely spending.

I play the lottery the same way. For $2, I get a couple of days to think about what I would do with all that money (most of the time it ends in maniacal laughter, which is one reason why I'm pretty sure I'm better off not winning). It's cheaper than a movie. I could think about it without buying a ticket, of course, but that's not the same.

Everything has to be paid for. Nothing is free. But what people forget is that there are economies of scale. If everyone chips in (such as with taxation) then things such as health care, social welfare, infrastructure, defense, fire protection, and so on, are cheaper and often more effective.

LucyInDisguise said...

Not seeing the light ...

Bjorn challenged me to sit down and actually figure out how much of my income was actually going to the government. State, local and federal, without regard to what it was called - tax, fee, service charge, etc. At the time, I was still living in Utardia. With the state income tax, gas tax, water, fees and the like I was (at that time) paying 38% of my net pay during any given month to some government entity. When I then added what I was paying for out of pocket for the things I wouldn't have to pay for if my address said 'Denmark', that became 58%.

Last year, my effective "tax" rate was 47%, when calculated the same way. (I no longer pay the Utardian State Tax Commision 10% of my income.)

The POINT, if I may be so bold, is that the average American is already paying a significantly higher effective tax than the Danes. Without getting the important bennies. Nor, for that matter, are we getting a good deal on what little we to get because of the decentralized and very inefficient manner in which our taxes are spent.

We are, as a whole, quite literally, a society made up of a bunch of selfish schmucks who can not do the math.


Meanwhile, back on the western front, Sue and I dropped $120 at one of the local casinos last night. 9 hours of entertainment for two, with free drinks on demand. Roughly 6.67/hr. each. Two weeks ago, a similar investment let us walk out with $612.00 in roughly 7 hours, earning roughly $35.10/hr. each. (For those of you following along at home: $612 - 120 = 492 net divided by 7, quotient divided by two, rounded to the nearest dime)

Last year, we spent about 6 -8 hours on 42 of the 52 weekends losing a total of $61.21 on the year*. Not a bad deal for the entertainment.

My wife did not, however, hit the big jackpot that would allow me to retire this month. And that just plain sucks.


* How do I know this??? Well, if you join the slot clubs, the casinos will track your play and give you a win/loss spreadsheet summary at the end of the year. Handy little tool - I refer to it as 'The Canary' in my mine - if you can, actually, do the math, it helps keep you outta trouble.

David said...

Ah - point (finally) taken. Thanks!

I like math. It keeps me out of trouble.

And I do not dispute your depiction of American society. No, not in the slightest.