Tax Day is upon us again, and we are reminded that only two things in life are certain. (Or, conversely, that the rest of life is very uncertain.)
In recent weeks the news has been saturated with reports of the failing health of Terri Shiavo and Pope John Paul II. Nature has finally taken its course in both cases. The latter lived with virtue and died with dignity. Terri Shiavo, thanks to political and religious opportunists, not so much.
The only positive thing about the massive coverage is that the media have been partially distracted from the trial of Michael Jackson. I have no idea whether he has molested children, as his accusers have alleged. But I wish someone would investigate his strange physical metamorphosis. The question as to why he would try to change his looks so radically is troubling enough, but I want to know how. Or maybe I don’t. I suspect alien infestation of some sort, or crimes against nature at the very least. And if children are part of his weird-science experiment, well….
By now there are probably a lot of people who can’t quite remember who Terri Shiavo was (even among those who ardently believed she should be kept alive at all costs). If she is remembered at all it will be because of the cynical circus that surrounded her as she died.
Pope John Paul II will take his place in history, and I think he will be remembered as a good person. (I don’t know what his successor will call himself, but I vote for “George Ringo I.)
I don’t think taxes are nearly as certain as death, at least for people with good accountants. I probably don’t agree with Steve Forbes on many things (he’s a former Republican presidential candidate and son of self-professed “capitalist tool” Malcolm Forbes), but I think I support the idea of a flat tax. He said the tax code should be simplified and everybody should pay the same percentage of their income, no deductions, or something like that.
I think a complicated tax code favors people who are smart enough to figure it out, or can pay someone else to figure it out. I’m not in either category. I can’t seem to balance my checkbook, but I know there isn’t enough money in my account to hire a smart accountant.
I don’t know whether I would owe more or less taxes under a flat tax system, but at least I would have the satisfaction of being able to figure it out on my own—even the simplest of calculators have a litttle "percent" button. And I could avoid the humiliation of a complete stranger at H&R Block reviewing my muddled accounting system, and questioning my well-intentioned but perhaps confused rational for various deductions.
Unlike a lot of people I don’t think taxes are a bad thing, or even a necessary evil. Taxes are simply the fee we pay to live in a civilized society, and to the extent the taxes are used to benefit society they are a good thing. Unfortunately taxpayers don’t get much of a say in how the tax revenue is spent. You would think that in a democracy we would.
About half of our taxes go to the military and interest on the national debt (about 30% and 20% respectively). Everything else, the benefits of a civilized society, comes out of the other half.
For what we are paying for the war in Iraq alone, more than $2 billion this year, we could be providing better schools and education, healthcare coverage for millions who are now uninsured, and even domestic security—all things the current administration says we can’t afford. The folks who are most vocal about “supporting the troops” might want to explain why we are spending less than 4% of our taxes on veterans benefits, with pressure from the Bush administration to spend even less. Education gets about the same amount, 3.8%. Job training gets less than one half of one percent.
If you want to see how the tax you are paying this year is being spent, click here.
There seem to be a lot of people these days who define "democracy" as having an election and life as "having a heartbeat." It’s not that simple.