Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Of Taxes and Pinatas

After watching business at Cheese Importers come out of the post-Christmas doldrums, it fell off again during the first two weeks in April. When I mentioned it to my boss, she said, "Oh, business always falls off in April because it's tax time. Nobody knows how much money they'll have until it's over."

Because my husband finishes our return by no later than mid-February, we always know what our tax bill is well before April 15. I get why so many people procrastinate. No one likes paying bills, even if it's in the service of the good things in life, like paying off credit card receipts from a vacation, for keeping your home at a comfortable temperature all year around or for your childrens' education.

No bill has been more demonized than income taxes, which roughly 40 percent of Americans polled believe primarily goes to fund waste, fraud and abuse. And if we could just get rid of all that waste, fraud and abuse, why, we'd be living in an absolute Shangri-La, where taxes are low and maybe even non-existent and wealthy people finally feel secure enough to invest in hiring people again.

Well, taxes for the wealthy are lower as a percentage of income, and yet they still don't feel secure, according to a Boston College professor's study of people with fortunes of more than $25 million. And if you clicked on the waste, fraud and abuse link above, you'll see that while there is always room to reduce waste, fraud and abuse, its eradication would amount to about $220 billion. That's a nice chunk of change. But it doesn't come close to putting a dent in the U.S. national debt.

Let me just say I'd do my very best to live on $25 million. Really. I'll blog about my struggles as a newly-enriched person. Any super-wealthy people who want to ease the pain of having too much wealth and not enough security can contact me here.

The insecurity described in Professor Paul Schervish's study makes me think of the pinata parties that were a mainstay of my youth in California. It was always the biggest and strongest and most aggressive kid who broke the pinata open, and the other big, strong, aggressive kids in the crowd who were the first to throw themselves on top of the candy and toys. The rest of us grabbed a few pieces and ran off with them before the kids on the ground noticed. I doubt those kids particularly enjoyed the treats. Maybe that's because they were so busy making sure no one else got much. It also didn't endear them to those of us who had the quaint idea that this was a party and everyone would get their fair share.

Maybe this is where insecurity creeps in. People with this many resources can fool themselves for only so long that they don't care about those of us with less. A few of the worst of them may actually enjoy the resentment they inspire. Think Leona Helmsley. This may be me being quaint again, but I think most people can only hide behind their financial and emotional fortresses for so long.

Life is an adventure, and as such, it can never be secure. I suspect Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali might know something about this.

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