Friday, April 12, 2013

We are the 34%!

who "like" or "love" doing our taxes, according to Pew:
When asked why they like doing their income taxes, 29% say that they are getting a refund, while 17% say they just don’t mind it or they are good at it; 13% say doing their taxes gives them a sense of control, while the same percentage cites a feeling of obligation – that it is their duty to pay their fair share.
"Like" is a bit strong for me. But I do get some satisfaction out of the process, disfigured a bit by anxiety over the possibility of owing more money than I thought (I pay quarterly estimates).  Here's what I do like:

  • A year's scorecard: not only of income, but of charity donations, utility expenses, mortgage payments, retirement contributions, etc. It is frankly the only budgeting -- or rather budget accounting -- that my wife and I do, other than the instinctive kind.

  • A feeling of contributing: call me a dupe, but I like being a modestly productive member of society. I know some of our tax dollars are wasted -- a lot, actually, in defense, and a lot in medical overpayments to doctors and hospitals and other healthcare providers, and a lot, particularly here in Jersey, in waste fraud & abuse. But you go to life with the government you have, and I don't think that starving the beast makes it more efficient.  This is a subset of the "scorecard" satisfaction -- seeing the total amount paid each year.

  • The 401k contribution: I always have to top this off at tax time. As I've noted before, I think the tax incentives for retirement saving are at least somewhat skewed, and there's some pain in knowing that I give away a large portion of every dollar I can contribute but don't. On the other hand, boosting the account produces a thought process something like Winnie-the-Pooh's when he first invented Poohsticks, a game in which he throws two sticks over a footbridge and roots for one to come out the other other end first:
    ...and when he went home for tea, he had won thirty-six and lost
    twenty-eight, which meant that he was-- that he had--well,  you
    take  twenty-eight  from  thirty-six,  and  that's what he was.
    Instead of the other way round.
  • Meeting my accountant: while toting up all the necessary totals is a pain in the ass, the actual hour when we meet, same time and place as last year, is pleasant enough. It's a little like meeting a therapist or a thesis tutor: someone who knows one part of your life well and who's there to help (for a fee). The annual meeting reminds me of the 1975 Bernard Slade play Same Time Next Year, except we don't have sex.  Actually, looking the play up on Wikipedia, I see that the man in the once-a-year coupling couple is an accountant.  I guess that's the joke. The woman is goes to their yearly meeting place for a religious retreat, another kind of accounting...
This post was triggered by a toxic tweet from anti-tax pope Grover Norquist:

That attitude is a recipe for national decline. And while the Pew poll does not exactly bespeak an effusion of patriotic zeal at tax time, it does perhaps suggest that elected officials overestimate the clout of the anti-tax enforcers as well as the NRA.

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