Share This Page

Land of the free, home of the taxed

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

There is a day of celebration at this season that is not on any calendar. It falls between mid-March and mid-April but varies from home to home.

It happens when the income tax is done.

Suddenly the awful, haunting thing can go out the door. Into the mail with it! (Or more likely now, into cyberspace.) The kitchen table can be cleared of tax forms, bank statements, receipts and calculators. And 13 to 16 hours of uncompensated labor, $120 to $270 of out-of-pocket costs, by official averages, are over.

Historians may puzzle someday how the freest country on Earth could do this to its people.

It forces them to tell, and to share, every dollar they've earned by working, saving, and investing. And if they don't tell, somebody else tells — informers. Banks, brokers and employers are obligated to let the government know what they paid you. It is a vast machinery of compulsion and invasion of privacy.

And it only brings in 3 cents of every 10 cents the federal government collects.

It says so on Page 104 of “1040 Instructions.” Form 1040 (or 1040EZ) is what we send the Internal Revenue Service with our confession of making money. In due course the IRS will let us know if it believes us by taking our check or sending a refund. Then go your way, peaceful citizen, for another year.

Probably nobody has ever read “1040 Instructions” all the way. It runs past 200 pages and refers, chillingly, to even more forms if you bring up complications.

Yet it's not all dull reading. We're reminded the government now runs so deep in the red every year, it has to borrow more — way more — than the personal income tax brings in. Borrowing money (and “printing” it) took care of 37 percent of Uncle Sam's bills in fiscal 2011 vs. just 30 percent from all the people's 1040s. Corporate income taxes kicked in another 5 percent.

Now look at the outgo side, what the government spends,

“Law enforcement and general government,” all basic, legitimate things we expect from Washington, spends only 2 percent of the budget.

A “Development” category lumps together all infrstructure, road, bridges and dams, plus scientific research, space, student and farm programs. The total: 8 perccent of the budget, still pretty affordable.

“Defense” is big at 24 percent. But it includes veterans' benefits and foreign affairs.

Even interest on the $16 trillion national debt seems small at 6 percent. But keep in mind, the Federal Reserve has hammered interest rates to near zero, punishing savings accounts in the bargain. Eventually that will change.

The really overweight federal spending is in “social programs” at 23 percent of the budget and “Social Security, Medicare and retirement” at 37 percent. Put them together, at 60 percent, and you have the unsustainable cost of the modern Welfare State: a creation of the last three-quarters century.

Interestingly, this tax season is noteworthy for very little talk about income tax alternatives.

Remember the Flat Tax idea of a few election cycles ago? You could file it on a postcard, proponents said. Or the FairTax, a national retail sales tax of 20 percent or so, which theoretically might replace the income tax altogether? In 2012 we seem resigned to the monster we have. But how good to get it out of the house.

Email jmarkowitz@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.