Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 301 The We Party

Rugged individualism is one of the American mantras. Shane rode into a valley dominated by a rich, powerful cattle baron. And Shane, alone, rode into town knowing he faced overwhelming odds. In High Noon Gary Cooper walks down a deserted street to face three men intent on killing him. Luke Skywalker flies down the throat of a death starship. We love these stories of an individual going against all odds and somehow emerging victorious. Sometimes they can lead to unintended consequences.

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

Certainly there is much to be said of the lone hero overcoming every difficulty and evil to achieve peace or success. For those of us with children or grandchildren the concern for our future as a civilization is always personal. We want Shane, Gary Cooper and Luke Skywalker to win.

We want to help. Anyone concerned about the future wants to help. And how do we do that? One way we can help is by working with others for the benefit of all.

One of my favorite phrases in the Declaration of Independence as to why we formed our government is "to Promote the General Welfare". Taxes is one way we illustrate our convictions. Why do I bring this up? Because the idea  has become buried in BS. Civilization costs. I sometimes try to imagine a world in which we did not pay taxes and it is not pretty. I see no roads, police or fire protection, water/sewer systems, interstate commerce, legal system, welfare system, education system, safety regulations, etc. etc. it would be a bleak and savage world.  I like all of those things and am willing to pay good money from my work - or retirement income- to support them.

It is quite common and acceptable to boast about how one beat paying taxes in one way or another. They sold this right before the deadline. They bought this right before the tax went on. They registered it in a way that certain taxes are avoided. It seems to be an ever creative task to avoid paying taxes.

Why aren't people proud to have paid more in taxes than anyone else? It could serve as another measure of patriotism. Imagine: "I contributed ten thousand dollars last year. Well I contributed Twenty. I contributed fifty. Imagine: General Electric could boast about hundreds of millions, Exon billions". The cliche "put your money where your mouth is" would take on real meaning. People and corporations would boast of their contributions.

Years ago in Alaska I was sitting at a round table in a bar. There were probably eight to ten of us enjoying an afternoon beer or two. Taxes became a topic of conversation and I found out that I was the only one paying. Everyone had invested in such obtuse tax exempt strategies that they didn't pay a cent.  All of them made more money than I did and yet they paid nothing and were proud of it. That just isn't right. And it certainly isn't something to be proud of. Not in my mind.

Another friend of mine recently told me that he had escaped paying a large tax bill with the phrase, "I'm sure not going to be giving it to the government". This just doesn't play in my mind. Why is it so generally accepted to hate the very government that really regulates the country that has enable you to reap such good fortune?

We know the tax laws are not equitable. We know that the government could be more efficient. We know that we have various opinions on how these problems could be corrected or improved. Disagreement on the solutions is to be expected. But why should we try to not pay any taxes at all or the very least possible. Why should that follow?

The goal is to get someone else to pay as much as possible and for me to pay as little as possible. We want someone else to foot the bill. We want them to pay. We want the benefits: education, law and order, transportation, commerce, etc but we don't want to pay for it. It is the "we" that gives us trouble.

Sometimes I think we should start a new political party entitled "We". It would be based on the premise that we should help and care for one another. That we all have rights and responsibilities to everyone else. We have rights to our privacy and our public life. We have responsibilities to ourselves and to others. We would try to turn paying taxes into a bragable activity.

Today was a beautiful fall day in Vancouver BC. It was Canadian Thanksgiving Day. The people were out on the trails, in the parks and on the water in large numbers. Everyone was enjoying the common space that sparkles. That is one of the big differences we notice when we cross the boarder each week. The Canadians have more of a sense of "We". They pay higher taxes.

They pay higher taxes and they have many more social amenities. The park system is fantastic. The health care system is fantastic. I have heard Americans claim there are weaknesses in the Canadian system. I have never personally heard complaints but I'm sure there are problems. Problems that pale compared to the mass inequities in the US. We belong to a community health club in Vancouver that is very inexpensive and yet very good. My point is that the difference between I and we is measurable. Of course the difference in taxation is also measurable but somewhere the old phrase of "You get what you pay for" sticks in my mind.

I'm thankful for the Shanes, Gary Coopers, and Luke Skywalker attitude that is fostered in our culture. I just wish there was an equal adoration and emphasis placed on We.

This is Retirement Talk.

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