Taxes, More Taxes and Even More Taxes — Are You Angry, Too?

Paper money, extreme macro
Image by kevindooley via Flickr

I recently got some official mail from New York State, demanding I fill out the paperwork for a new commuter tax. Time for another tax!

Excuse me?

I commute, as one of the nation’s self-employed — now about one-third of American workers — from my bedroom to my living room desk. It takes about 15 seconds, tops. I will be heading into Manhattan, 25 miles south of me, visible from my street, Monday to interview someone for my book, because face to face interviews are always the best.

I do not commute into the city, but go in about once a week for business or pleasure or both. I should be taxed for this?

Why do I need to pay another (*^%#@!! tax?

I get why people are furious, and why a man torched his house and flew his plane into an IRS building in Austin. His actions were insane, but his rage was not. His sense of impotence is deeply and widely felt.

There are six people lined up for any job open right now. Thousands of Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure, living in their vehicles, terrified of the next hammer blow of an economy — and a government — rewarding Wall Street with billions while the rest of us stand there feeling like morons for doing the right thing, paying our taxes over and over and over to governments that give us very little back. Two wars. Bank bailouts. Job creation that doesn’t touch us or anyone, anywhere, we know.

When you work for yourself, paying taxes feels deeply, viscerally personal. That money doesn’t neatly and invisibly evaporate from your paychecks, with maybe a fat refund awaiting you. As if!

We’re expected to pay our taxes quarterly, in anticipation of the rest of the year’s income — as if we know, in this recession, what that will be — in docile agreement. We get zero help when our clients disappear, (I lost one third of my income last year when The New York Times shut down a regional section I wrote for every month), when banks refuse to extend us credit to run the businesses we have spent years building, when credit card companies game the system by jacking up their rates before new laws restrict them from further rapacity.

I know I am not alone right now in this crap economy, scrapping harder than ever for my income, in feeling like a punch-drunk fighter on the ropes, looking through puffy, bloodied eyes for my cut-man. In vain.

I interviewed a 44-year-old local businessman yesterday who runs a store his great-great grandfather founded in 1904. “I’ve never ever ever seen it this bad,” he said. He is surviving, and gracious about it. But, increasingly, I bet others will not be.

The self-employed also pay 15% for the pleasure of not having a boss, or insured earnings (no unemployment checks for us — no matter how badly the economy tanks) or benefits, no paid sick days or holidays or vacations. That’s our money going into FICA, paying full freight for our Social Security.

Every time I write a check to the Federal Treasury, I want to enclose a note: Don’t waste it! Stop two absurd wars! Pass a health care bill!

I grew up in Canada, where taxes are high but the finest and most competitive college in the nation, my alma mater the University of Toronto, charges about $5,000 a year tuition right now. No, that is not missing a zero. Where every single resident of ever single province has access to excellent, free health care, cradle to grave.

Canadians are taxed up the wazoo, even paying tax on stamps. But you see, every single day, where that money goes and its benefits.

I understand the fury and the frustration. I feel it. Millions of us do.

8 thoughts on “Taxes, More Taxes and Even More Taxes — Are You Angry, Too?

  1. sdried

    It really is a pity that our government hasn’t mandated the sort of protections that the self-employed deserve but I’m sick of hearing Americans complain about taxes. We pay the lowest (and most regressive) taxes in the developed world. Deal with it!

    1. jake brodsky

      If I knew that our taxes were going to result in a more productive economy, a cleaner environment, less crime, and so on, I wouldn’t feel so bad about paying my taxes.

      Sadly, not many have faith that this is taking place. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The last time we had deficits this big in proportion to the economy, we were fighting World War II and the money was pretty clearly going to fight a war that we simply couldn’t avoid.

      These days, we have Wall Street financiers making obscene money on bad risks they took at the American Taxpayer’s expense. We have a military industrial complex that still hasn’t grown out of their cold war mentality. We have what started as legitimate social programs being expanded to effectively buy votes…

      Understand that it’s not the taxes I object to. It’s the lack of fiduciary responsibility by our government. Is it too much to ask for a little accountability here?

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    We do pay lower taxes than other nations. That is not my point and, having lived in Canada and France — very different in this issue — I know it firsthand.

    Do you feel you are getting your money’s worth?

  3. ebizjoey

    No, but I am sure that the rest of the world feels they are not getting enough from us either- we squandered too much for nothing I think.

  4. Stephan Michaels

    I was with ya all the way… until your tag.

    First, it’d be great to know how many people with good credit recently had their limits lowered and their card rates jacked, just before the Feb. 22 deadline. Thanks, U.S. Congress, for passing reforms that gave credit card companies a nine-month window to turn the screws.

    As for new taxes? Seems inevitable. I wouldn’t mind paying ’em, if I could see the money going towards better schools, roads, water quality, health care, etc. And while I don’t support 8.3 billion in government backing for nuclear reactors in Georgia, I guess it’s better than borrowing the money from China.

    The notion that taxes pave a better social road was my motivation for moving to BC last year, to get a glimpse of that vaunted Canadian system at work. Taxes up the wazoo, as you say, but all for the greater good, right? Clean air, safe roads and free health care!

    Well, now I’m not so sure, about BC anyway. Taxes, fees and taxes, and yet a dearth of affordable housing, an astoundingly high cost of living and deplorable environmental policies. That California’s action-hero governor looks to BC as a model for environmental stewardship is a joke.

    “Where every single resident of ever single province has access to excellent, free health care, cradle to grave.”

    That’s a nice thought, but health care in BC, as in some other provinces, is not free. It is subsidized. If you have a decent income, you must contribute a small premium. (If you’re dirt poor, it’s free.) Now, it’s great that everyone has access to health care, even the homeless, but the quality of that care? That’s debatable.

    This freelancer just moved back to the states, from where I will file my tax return this year.

  5. Caitlin Kelly

    Stephan, thanks very much for a blast of northern, recent reality. I have lived in Ontario and Quebec and read the Canadian press almost daily.

    I have never lived in B.C., although my mom does. I find it unappealing, for some of the reasons you name, no matter how much people salivate over Vancouver. I have never understood why real estate is so insanely expensive in that city, and it rains so much in the winter I would lose my marbles.

    What the credit card companies have managed to get away with is nothing less than obscene.

  6. Stephan Michaels

    “What the credit card companies have managed to get away with is nothing less than obscene.”

    My own dad is a ‘prime’ example. He had very expensive eye surgery a few months ago and put his share of the multi-thousand dollar bill on a credit card. At the time, that card had a 25K limit and a zero balance. He paid off the entire balance within two months. His reward? The bank showed its appreciation for thirty-plus years with them, and slashed the credit line to $2,500.

    And I know many other people with good credit who are suddenly staring at hardship, because their saftey net was hacked at by this perverse algorithm.

    Hmmm. Could this be the issue that finally puts Ralph Nadar over the top?

  7. Caitlin Kelly

    Stephan, what astonished me about this shell game you describe is its arbitrary nature and who’s getting axed. It’s as though the companies have totally abandoned any semblance of logic on this point. We were very lucky to have finally re- financed our mortgage last week, thanks partly to good credit scores, but we also felt the snapping jaws of newly-raised variable APR’s. The time and energy it now requires those of us with decent incomes and credit to stay atop of this only adds insult to this greedy injury.

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