and pretend fear. and pretend compassion…. There are better shows on Broadway if I want to see people acting.
20 years ago, as a single parent, I was planted firmly in the lower class ranks of the US Tax Code. As a result, for over 10 years I did not pay income taxes. In fact I got money back in the form of “earned income credit” — they were so glad I wasn’t on welfare, and that I consistently held down a job, the IRS sent me some money so I’d keep trying. And I did. We ate a lot of pasta and rice and beans. All my furniture was used. My car was used. My apartment floor was rotted so you could see the first floor living room from the 2nd floor bath tub. The gas leaked. The faucets leaked. The roof leaked. The electricity didn’t work in 1 room and the lights wouldn’t turn off in another. We never made long distance phone calls. We never bought any food we weren’t going to eat that day or the next because of the bugs. We didn’t go shopping or have a Christmas tree. My doctor was a lovely man who didn’t really need all my money, so he charged on a sliding scale. I was uninsured, and so I paid $15 total for office visits — the result was that my son and I got to go to the doctor when we needed to.
Then one day, I started making money. I made more money in 2 years than I’d made in the previous 15. And those years I paid taxes. Quite a bit of tax. It came as a real shock to be asked for 40-45% of what I’d earned. But I knew it was coming, and there was a feeling of — maybe pride? — that my years as an adult were evening out. I also made a point of paying back the other spheres of “tight money” I’d been opting out of by donating bags full of toys to the local Toys-For-Tots Christmas collection, and more toys to the local Ronald McDonald Houses. In cafes and eateries, I started leaving 20-25% tips to make up for the 3-5% (if any) I’d left for hard-working waiters in my lean years (on the rare occasions when I’d find myself in a restaurant.) I assume that’s how it works in the long run. Those who have, make up for those who only have a little.
Then, at a lapse of a few weeks between old insurance coverage, and what was to be its replacement policy — my little family was run over by a serious illness, and within 5 months, my savings, my son’s college fund, and pretty much everything I had was gone. And — I was back to not paying income tax again. In fact, I was back to far worse than I’d been before because so much of the time I had to stay home and be a caregiver — so there was less money coming in.
Everybody survived but my finances. But time passes. I was working as a substitute teacher and going back to college when I met my husband, Jim, and the world stopped being such a scary place again. There are a lot of people not lucky enough to fall in love with a sweet, infinitely kind, stable and single college professor. I wasn’t going to end up on the street without him — but I was probably going to end up in an asylum — or just dead.
In financial terms, when I remarried, I was suddenly back in the household income category that paid taxes. Not a lot, by comparison to my flush years, but a good, middle class income. I started a retail toy business while the Clinton budget was still in place (and before 9/11) and so reaped the run-off of the plump economy for about 4 years.
War has a bad effect on the toy market. Especially one with as much debt as Iraq was stacking up, and no end in sight. Each year of the W. Whitehouse, we made less and less in the toy store, until finally, we stayed open one last year, even though we were losing money, just to keep our one and only employee employed until she knew what was next in her life. We closed the doors in May of 2010, and that was that. We gave the leftover toys to the local Childrens Home, the Foster Care folks, Bikers Against Child Abuse (they carry little plush animals in the pockets of their biker jackets), the Stork’s Nest (where teenage mothers are taught the basics), and the Childrens Advocacy Center (where traumatized and abused children are taken to give legal statements and to receive therapy.)
So once again, for the last 5 years, we have not paid income taxes because the toy store wasn’t making money. And we probably won’t pay taxes this year — because we lost so much money in the end.
But after that — who knows.
The point is — over my working lifetime, the amount of taxes I’ve paid has just about equaled the amount of taxes Jim paid. His was always taken out of his paycheck like everybody else who works a steady job. Mine was a little more complicated — but it evened out.
And as far as I can tell, almost nobody we know paid taxes last year beyond Social Security and incidental amounts. We lost money when we closed the store, and had half-a-store full of toys to give away. But everybody that worked last year got special tax incentives and deductions, and so may have paid some tax — but a much smaller percentage than previously.
The lower class — the people where I was when I was a young, single mother — don’t pay anything but payroll tax anyway, and will probably get that back as “earned income”, or a refund in the end. In the middle-class range, anybody from 80k down is just paying payroll taxes, or the lower rungs of the tax ladder — so they aren’t being squeezed outrageously.
The real money comes from people who are doing very well, thank you. People who work hard, buy nice houses, new cars every couple of years, fashionable clothes for their kids, cars for their kids, new furniture every few years, vacations, plane tickets, meals out every day for lunch and several evenings a week, have elective cosmetic surgery, housekeepers, big toys like motorcycles, hunting trips for sport, season tickets to their favorite sports team, movies, a phone for every member of the household, a computer in every room of the house — and plenty. That’s the word I’m looking for. Plenty.
I said all that to say this.
I was in my car yesterday and the car in front of me had a sticker on its back window. I say the car had a sticker — the truth is, the person driving the car had the sticker. The car was an innocent victim. It said:
And did I mention the car was a brand new, dealer-plated, 4-wheel drive sport utility vehicle.
I don’t mean to be rude (yes I do) but if you’re driving a gas guzzler straight off the dealer lot in the current economy, no, you haven’t paid enough taxes already.
Those who have plenty, make up for those who don’t have enough. That’s the way it works. Sometimes you’re the have and sometimes you’re the have not — and you can’t control which every day of your life.
2 days ago, our local food bank called the local TV outlets to say that they had less than 2 weeks of food left. Usually, they make it through the summer on the produce of their little farm which is worked by volunteers, but this year, the flooding ruined the crops. And… instead of 500 clients a week, they are seeing 700+ because of the economy. So we loaded up our car with groceries and headed over there. They were happy to see us — and several other folks were doing the same thing. This morning, the regional grocers donated food by the truckload, and promised to match up to $10K in donations made by customers at the register.
Those who have plenty, make up for those who don’t have enough. That’s the way it works.
What doesn’t work is put-on outrage. If the lower class isn’t paying taxes, and the middle class below 80k isn’t paying much — then who is it that’s making and wearing these bumper stickers on their new sports utility vehicles?
It’s a trick question. We already know the answer. There are only 3 groups who could be doing this.
1. People making plenty, or plenty+
2. People who don’t really know how much tax they paid last year or who don’t really know what the current tax rates are and why
3. People running fast to jump on a passing bandwagon
Regardless of which group they fall in — these are not people who are pinched to the point of hunger, doing without, or poverty. Their tax rate is not moving them from the HAVES column to the HAVE NOTS column. Their tax rate is not keeping them from eating what they want tonight. Or from going to the doctor, the mall, or the private school tomorrow.
The SUV driver was a white, 40-something, driving during the middle of the day, and driving in town. I’m sure their income is well deserved and they work hard for it. I’m sure they have a rocky, hill-y, dirt road farm that needs a utility vehicle and all the gas it drinks on a daily basis. (we live in a desert.) I’m sure they resent like hell having to pay their taxes while single parents, and those going through family illness and crises get their taxes back in refunds and EICs. I’m sure they resent having to pay a higher percentage of their higher income into the pool than their lower-income counterparts.
And I’m sure that they resent that they have no direct way to specify what their taxes pay for or don’t pay for. They don’t want to pay doctors to give good health care to lazy people who won’t work, or people who don’t eat right or people who have long-term diseases or health conditions, or people who work at stupidly dangerous jobs. They don’t want to pay for rebuilding the power grid and the infrastructure of utilities, roads, water resources etc. They don’t want to pay teachers, firefighters, police, or other public servants raises negotiated by unions.
But they probably do want the police to come when they hear somebody coming through their back gate. And they do want other people’s children to be educated — because if they weren’t, then they’d all be too stupid to work and pay their own way. So they want humanitarians to go into poorer neighborhoods and teach those children.
They want the social contract — but they don’t want to pay for it. They want a standing army. They want to be able to storm into a country that hasn’t attacked us and isn’t threatening us, so we can give them freedom from their misguided ways and terrible peer-pressure induced religion, and offer them the free gift of democracy. But they don’t want to pay for it. Or maybe they do want to pay for that, but they don’t want to pay Social Security benefit to people who have been paying into the system for a lifetime. Maybe they want to pay for a war, but not the salaries of judges who might give rights to the wrong people….
I’m just reallly reallllly tired of false outrage. Of people saying they are outraged about taxes, when what they are really afraid of is not being in control of the money they contribute to the general fund. They want their hard earned dollars to be in a special fund, they control, and they direct.
And that would work, right?
I’m tired of people pretending to be revolutionaries. Obviously they haven’t read much about real revolutionaries. Revolutions don’t happen just because you and your plenty-fied friends are pissed off because their party isn’t in power at the moment. And revolutions don’t happen because a bunch of your friends meet at a picnic and decide to print pseudo-outrage on 5×12″ bumper stickers, lapel buttons, and Facebook pages.
“Revolution! Ooooo, it gives me shivers! Let’s go talk about it over lobster ravioli and margaritas….”
I’m sorry. Those who have plenty, make up for those who don’t have enough. That’s the way it works. Any other way, and it stops working. If you want to see revolution, then break the social contract with all the single parents, devoted caregivers, retirees, public servants, unemployed, underemployed, uneducated, undereducated, hungry, disabled, and unable — and their families. There is nothing on earth as scary or as dangerous as someone who has nothing and therefore nothing to lose — and that’s where real revolutions are born. Not on the back windows of new, gas guzzling sport-utility vehicles.
Saturday afternoon revolutionaries… are not my cup — well — you get the idea.