© 2023 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Taxed To The Limit

This is the week when it becomes clear that “Government by the people” actually means “Government paid for by the people.” In the shadow of April 15 we are all preparing to make our involuntary contributions towards another year of government, no matter what it costs, and of course we should feel wonderful about that.

My own contribution to the gigantic money-laundering machine in Washington is financially insignificant. It will scarcely pay a Senator’s salary for a week. But it comes at a psychological price. In order to appease the IRS, I have to live the year 2014 all over again.

I hate this. Let the past bury the past, is my motto. But no, it all has to be dragged out again for the accountant’s inspection – every mile driven, every hotel bill, every desperate call to the computer consultant, every medical co-pay - it’s all laid out there in a big file of receipts, twelve months of life reduced to numbers. What’s worse, the numbers don’t change much from year to year. Every April I find that I have driven about the same number of miles, gone to the office superstore every couple of months and spent about thirty dollars on things like pens and paper and post it notes, paid the same fees to the same so-called professional organizations, and so on down the list. The receipts for 2014 look exactly the same as those for 2013, and the growing heap for 2015 look the same again.

My life seems interesting and varied to me as I live it, until the moment in April when we sit down with the accountant. Then it looks supremely dull. I suppose that’s what we mean when we talk about “reducing” life to numbers. Each visit to the office store and each drive down the Long Island Expressway may have been a thrilling adventure at the time, but on the accountant’s computer screen they all look the same.

Tax feels personal, like robbery. It’s a reminder of how unadventurous I have been, and also reflects poorly on my financial skills. Once again I have failed to become rich through manipulating hedge funds (and I’ll never understand how they make all that money by dealing in hedges). Once again I have failed to win the lottery or become a rock star, or catch the generous attention of an important lobbyist, or sue somebody for millions of dollars, or file a false insurance claim, or deal a lot of illegal drugs, or sell a house for ten times what I paid for it. Other people do these things all the time, apparently without thought or consequences. When it comes to the worship of money I am practically an atheist, and probably a heretic into the bargain.

Honoré de Balzac wrote: “Behind every great fortune there lies a great crime.” This suggests that the absence of a great fortune can be credited to honesty. But I’m afraid it’s less flattering than that. It’s about indifference, and a kind of perverse pride.

Most of my friends in the worlds of writing and the arts are far from rich. That’s the proper condition of a writer, as of an artist or a teacher or a musician. We are proud of not paying attention to money. It’s not honesty we suffer from, it’s stupidity. Anyone will tell you that money is the only thing that matters. The tax code is the scripture of the religion of money. The more cunningly we read and interpret its mystical rules, the greater our rewards will be. Wednesday is Judgment Day. Economic atheists cannot hope to be saved.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.