The 1040 Rebellion
We approach that notable time of year when the snow is melting, the sun is shining, and a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of itemizing, to offset the annual looting fest by the federal, state and city governments. Today, in the spirit of survival, we band together to remember that there is life after taxes, as long as we don’t need to buy anything for the rest of the year.
But first we reflect on the roots of the American tax, back to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when the Colonies rebelled against Britain for taxation without representation, since the commute to Parliament was prohibitive and also non-deductible. In addition to spiking the flavor of Boston Harbor, the Tea Party succeeded in eliminating Britain’s unfair tea tax, replacing it with American sales tax, property tax, estate tax, capital gains tax, employment tax, social security tax, and of course, the income tax.
Taxation was not always a contact sport. In the early 1800s, Americans paid a simple luxury tax on items like tobacco and alcohol—a reason to be grateful for other people’s vices. But the history of tax is the history of war: The War of 1812 gave birth to the sales tax, while the Civil War launched the income tax, the excise tax, the inheritance tax, the car wash and the yard sale. This precedent is why Americans today pay income tax every year whether we are engaged in combat or just sitting at home decoding our 1040s. But after a while we get used to that constant feeling of someone’s hand in our wallet, and that paying Uncle Sam doesn’t mean we’re losing money, we’re gaining shares in an F-16 Viper.
Our taxes are collected by the almighty Internal Revenue Service, if you call that a service. And if they ever have a question, they will be happy to audit your tax returns all the way back to your first newspaper route, a procedure as painless as having your spleen removed in a dentist’s office through your mouth. And a reminder to save your receipts so you can justify every business latté you ever deducted. Not that I knew this when I was 23 and got audited—probably for earning so little income, which I had no idea was illegal. I arrived holding a big cardboard box of mystery papers, which were organized like the contents of a wastebasket and probably included a few receipts. In response to the questions of the tax collector, who breathed fire that swirled high above his horns, I rummaged through the box holding up one receipt after another, asking, “Is this it?” (No response.) “How about this one?” Honestly, I was not under the influence of any mind-altering substances, although that could only have helped. But after a few minutes, the tax collector was so confused that he told me to leave. Maybe he decided to try meeting his quota with a better prospect, like Chevron.
Before you try the “big box of mystery papers” method, remember that results may vary. Consult your tax advisor. And be prepared, be very prepared. After all, paying taxes is just the price of our freedom to work and pay taxes. Think of this when you’re drinking your next cup of tea.
Copyright 2007 Patricia Draznin