»  National Review

April 13th, 2001

  Tax Panic


There they sit on my desk, leering at me insolently, two pretty boxes still in their shrink-wrap: Intuit Corporation's Quicken TurboTax, federal and state. And today is, what? April 11th. Eeeek!

I had better tread a little carefully here. I am not a U.S. citizen, though I am trying to become one and am the father of two. I pay full federal, state and city taxes and FICA, of course, even though I can't vote. I've been paying them for 15 years, which is one reason I am shameless about criticizing American politicians: I help pay their salaries, and if a screw-up in their foreign policy brings Chinese ICBMs raining down on Huntington, Long Island, it's my crocuses that will be fried. No taxation without representation, right? Sounding off on NRO is my way of getting a little representation. (Another reason I feel free to criticize? Well, I have never noticed that Americans are very reticent with their opinions about the Royal Family …)

Still, living in this country on sufferance, being a long-time lover of the U.S.A. and all things American, and desperate for formal acceptance as a citizen, I feel I should be a bit more enthusiastic about paying my taxes. Nope: summon it as I may, the enthusiasm is just not there.

Towards the government I feel no scruples and would dodge paying the [income] tax if I could. Yet I would give my life for England readily enough, if I thought it necessary. No one is patriotic about taxes.
             — George Orwell's Wartime Diary, 8/9/40

Damn right, George. Not even conservative patriots like paying taxes. As for the other crowd … well, I think New York City's previous mayor, the left-liberal David Dinkins, can be taken as representative. For several years in a row, he filed no returns at all. Just slipped his mind.

Conservatives especially don't like paying taxes because they know a thing the other crowd doesn't know, or knows but will not admit in public: that huge amounts of the money we render unto Caesar are flushed down Caesar's cloaca. There is a dude who turns up on one of my cable channels advertising a book he has written, titled something like: How to Get the Federal Government to Give You Money! He boasts that pretty much anybody capable of putting pen to paper can get a few thousand dollars a year from Uncle Sam, by applying to one of the myriad programs pushed through Congress by some bonehead legislator 10, 20 or 30 years ago and promptly forgotten about by everyone except our author and whichever 300-strong interest group with two lawyers and a website put the legislator up to it.

One of the most offensive things about the Clintons (yes, here I go), to my way of thinking, was their insouciance towards what we are pleased to call "public money" — that is, money you and I have earned by the sweat of our brows that has then been torn from our pockets by the government, under threat of jail if we should be so foolish as to resist. A truly republican form of government, rooted in Washingtonian virtue, would treat these monies as a sacred trust, to be handled with reverence and care and disbursed with a frown, from beneath a green eyeshade. We are, of course, a very long way from this ideal. Seventy-five years from it, more or less, since the days when Calvin Coolidge, the last green-eyeshade president, used to prowl the White House kitchens looking for unnecessary extravagances.

It was Michael Oakeshott, I think, who spoke out against the anthropomorphization of government, and observed that the qualities we should seek in our government are, in many cases, the opposite of those we hope for in our personal acquaintances. I want my friends to be generous: but I prefer my government stingy. I want my friends to be trusting: but I prefer my government to be suspicious … and so on. In the manner of disbursements, I want my government (when at last it is my government) to be both stingy and suspicious. You want HOW MUCH? To do WHAT? Why should American working people pay for you to have that? And surely it can be done for less, anyway, can't it?

Well, I can dream. And now it is four o'clock, and soon it will be April 12th, and I perceive that not only can I dream, but I can sweat cold sweat, too. There is a little gizmo with a retractable blade that I use for cutting through shrink-wrap — where did I put it? Kids ran off with it, probably. Damn it all, I think I shall go and lie down with my head under the pillow for a while.