Tax returns are due next week and many Americans are surely stressed out as they scramble to get their financial records in order.
I can’t think of a better time to revisit the wit and wisdom of Will Rogers.
Rogers was a famous American humorist, actor and social commentator who lived from 1879 to 1935, when he died in a plane crash.
He was known for his folksy wit and common-sense observations, which he published in his syndicated newspaper column — observations such as these:
“The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”
“If you make any money, the government shoves you in the creek once a year with it in your pockets, and all that don’t get wet you can keep.”
“The crime of taxation is not in the taking it, it’s in the way that it’s spent.”
Will, your words still hold true some 90 years after you spoke them.
Taxes are going up.
Millions are taking a bath in the creek as our government empties our pockets.
And not only do I not like the way our tax money is being spent, I especially dislike the way politicians are spending the trillions we keep borrowing and adding to the national debt.
When you consider how bad the national debt has gotten — it’s approaching $32 trillion — this Rogers’ quote was right on the money:
“Alexander Hamilton started the U.S. Treasury with nothing, and that was the closest our country has ever been to being even.”
Here’s another Rogers observation worth revisiting:
“People want just taxes more than they want lower taxes. They want to know that every man is paying his proportionate share according to his wealth.”
Americans are not paying taxes in a manner that is proportionate to their wealth, however.
The very wealthy pay very low income taxes because they pay taxes on gains in their investments, not on the money they earn from being a working stiff, what the government calls “earned income.”
It’s the modestly well-to-do — workers who make high earned incomes — who pay most of the income taxes.
“In 2018, the top 1% of income earners made nearly 21% of all income but paid 40% of all federal income taxes,” according to David Harsanyi in Real Clear Politics. “The top 10% earned 48% of the income and paid 71% of all federal income taxes.”
Meanwhile, Americans on the lower end of the income scale, pay few, if any, federal income taxes.
“Americans making less than $75,000 are projected to have, on average, no tax liability after deductions and credits,” writes Harsanyi.
“More than 61% of Americans — around 107 million households — owed zero federal income taxes for the year 2020.”
Americans may not know who is paying the lion’s share of taxes, but most agree on one point: complying with our federal tax code is not for the faint of heart.
When the income tax became law in 1913 — in Will Rogers’ 34th year — the tax code could be printed on one page. It’s currently about 10,000 impenetrable pages long.
If Rogers were still alive, he’d surely have a joke about our tax code’s regrettable size — maybe something like this:
“Our tax code is so big it’s good for only one thing: If any of our enemies give us trouble, we can threaten to drop it on them.”
Purcell, creator of the infotainment site ThurbersTail.com, which features pet advice he’s learning from his beloved Labrador, Thurber, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.