When I was a pup, getting my career started, I worked through a number of years during which I didn’t make enough money to pay federal income taxes. I did pay self-employment tax, which is essentially both halves of the Social Security tax. Writers and other self-employed people enjoy bitching and moaning about having to pay both halves of the tax, but, you know… everybody pays both halves. It’s only that if you’re employed by someone other than yourself, your employer pays the other half and it doesn’t feel so much like it comes out of your paycheck. Even though, of course, it does.
Apparently, investing in my career — putting the money I earned back into my business — makes me one of those lazy good-for-nothing handout-wanting victim-feeling non-personally-responsible entitlement-demanding government-money-mooching freeloaders so despised by Mr. Romney.
Part of the 47% who will never, ever vote for him.
He’s got that last right.
Never mind that I was supporting myself. I’m puzzled as to why supporting oneself while developing a career — a small business — doesn’t count as being personally responsible, but as far as Mr. Romney is concerned, it doesn’t.
When I did make enough money to pay income taxes, I felt pretty proud of myself. Income taxes became a little bit painful when income averaging went away (I still miss it, because the income of a writer tends to be boom or bust from year to year), but I felt that I was more or less a grown-up, and contributing to the general wellbeing.
However, paying federal income taxes still didn’t turn me into someone likely to vote for anyone who acts as mean and callous as Mr. Romney. Even making a good deal of money in alternate leap years with eclipses and blue moons didn’t do that.
When Mr. Romney was called on paying a low tax rate on his enormous income, he said “I don’t pay more [taxes] than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president. I’d think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires.” [Forbes 7/31/2012]
How is Mr. Romney’s strategy for his enormous income different from following tax laws and paying no income taxes on a low income? How is it different from following tax laws that permitted me to invest — with my own money — in my career while I was building it?
The “Cut taxes! Cut taxes! Cut taxes!” refrain troubles me. Discussions of taxes become toxic in short order. People have been persuaded that they fall on hard times because their taxes are too high.
But it isn’t true.
We fall on hard times because our wages and salaries — and the advance for a first novel, which is little more now than it was in 1975 when my first novel was published — are stagnant.
For example, Fawcett Gold Medal paid me an advance of $3500 for The Exile Waiting. In 1975, I could live for a year on $3500, frugally, while I wrote Dreamsnake. [i]
A friend who recently received $4000 for her first novel could not live for a year on that advance.[ii]
We fall on hard times because while the productivity of our country has increased, the people who have increased it haven’t participated in the benefits. Most of the benefits go to the richest members of our society.
A trollish comment on my Facebook page announced, “Rich people deserve all the money they get because they work very, very hard.”
Maybe they do work hard. But do they work 500 to 1000 times as hard as a typical midlist novelist or accountant or vegetable grower? Do they work 2000 times as hard as my friend who cleans houses for a living? I bet they do not.
Why is it OK if the productivity of our society gushes up to the richest people, while the people who create the productivity participate little if at all in those gains? Why is it OK for big companies to make billions in profits while squeezing their workers to the point where a full-time worker is eligible for food stamps? Why is income distribution upward considered fine and dandy? Why is it “socialist” or “class warfare” or “Eek! Dirty hippy commie!” to suggest that just maybe the people who create the wealth in the first place deserve to have some of it?
“Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society” is a phrase usually attributed to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. This is what the President was saying when he said, “You didn’t build that.” Roads, bridges, hydroelectric plants, water systems, public health, education, basic research, the Postal Service, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid: programs that directly or indirectly benefit everyone.
Whether they make enough to pay federal income taxes or not.