Posted by: mutantpoodle | January 31, 2009

Death and Taxes

daschleSo Tom Daschle has a tax problem:

Tom Daschle failed to pay more than $128,000 in taxes, partly for free use of a car and driver that had been provided to him by a prominent businessman and Democratic fund-raiser, administration officials said Friday.

Mr. Daschle, concluding that he owed the taxes, filed amended returns and paid more than $140,000 in back taxes and interest on Jan. 2, the officials said.

Add that to Tim Geithner’s problems with figuring out the (admittedly more complex) payroll and social security taxes as they related to his IMF employment.

But seriously, WTF?

I pay taxes. I paid them when I was making a fair amount of money and when I wasn’t. And while there have been times I’ve made mistakes, they have been of the $100 dollar variety, not the $100k variety.

Think about this: Tom Daschle shorted the IRS $128,000. Assuming his marginal tax rate is 30% (I’m just guessing), that means he under-reported over $425,000 of income. If he’s got an aggressive accountant and a lower tax rate, that means he missed even more. How do you do that?

And, BTW, why are you taking a car and driver from someone? Is there a reason you can’t drive?

Beyond the optics of this, which are horrible, and the fact that he’ll get away with it, because he was a member of the club, don’t people take taxes seriously?

I have a lot more sympathy for the guy making $30,000 a year taking some tax shortcuts – that’s food and shelter you’re talking about. Millionaires who do it? That’s a Ferrari.

You can have roughly three attitudes about taxes. You can see them as a heinous evil perpetrated by an all-too-powerful (and wasteful) government, you can view them as a necessary evil, or you can look at them as the dues we pay for living in the United States. The dollars are the same either way.

Last April, Rustbelt Intellectual posted about taxes. He said, in part,

I don’t want to sound hokey, but I feel a sense of pride every April 15. I am fulfilling one of the central responsibilities of citizenship. My checks will provide some of the funds to pay for my children’s trip to school (part of the way on a road that is being rebuilt with federal funds). And more importantly, my modest tax payments will help other people’s children, and their parents, and grandparents too.

….Even if our tax dollars are sometimes wasted or misdirected, it’s time to talk about what our local, state, and federal governments are doing right. What has Uncle Sam ever done for us? Social Security. OK, but other than Social Security? Subsidized medical research…OK, but other than subsidized medical and scientific research and Social Security? Well we have the National Park system. Other than Social Security, medical research, and National Parks? Well you get the idea.

He went on to quote Berkeley’s Robin Einhorn from American Taxation, American Slavery, tracing the roots of our anti-tax mania to the antebellum south.

[S]laveholders had different priorities than other people—and special reasons to be afraid of taxes. Slaveholders had little need for transportation improvements (since their land was often already on good transportation links such as rivers) and hardly any interest in an educated workforce (it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write because slaveholders thought education would help African Americans seize their freedom). Slaveholders wanted the military, not least to promote the westward expansion of slavery, and they also wanted local police forces (“slave patrols”) to protect them against rebellious slaves. They wanted all manner of government action to protect slavery, while they tended to dismiss everything else as wasteful government spending.

….The irony is that the slaveholding elites of early American history have come down to us as the champions of liberty and democracy. In a political campaign whose audacity we can only admire, charismatic slaveholders persuaded many of their contemporaries—and then generations of historians looking back—that the elites who threatened American liberty in their era were the nonslaveholders! Today, this brand of politics looks eerily familiar. We have experience with political parties that attack “elites” in order to rally voters behind policies that benefit elites. This is what the slaveholders did in early American history, and they did it very well. Expansions of slavery became expansions of “liberty,” constitutional limitations on democratic self-government became defenses of “equal rights,” and the power of slaveholding elites became the power of the “common man.” In the topsy-turvy political world we have inherited from the age of slavery, the power of the majority to decide how to tax became the power of an alien “government” to oppress “the people.”

And so we are back to Mr. Daschle and (to a lesser extent) Mr. Geithner, neither of whom (thank goodness) is claiming oppression by their government. But if they’re wondering why people are cynical about government in the first place, or why they think the system is rigged against them, consider that both gentlemen will pay virtually no professional price for their errors.

At least Daschle won’t be in charge of the IRS. Having a tax cheat oversee that agency would be…

Oh, never mind.

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