If conservatives were to declare a day of prayer and fasting, is there any doubt it would be April 15? Sackcloth and ashes might also be in order for the day when the government helps itself to a substantial share of our hard earnings, often to finance operations we’d be better off without. Let’s have a moment of silence for all that stolen money.
What’s that I hear? Could that be the sound of fellow Americans celebrating? Sadly, it probably is. Tax Day parties are becoming a new American tradition. And I have to say, it’s a pretty terrible one. I understand how nice it is to get a tax refund. (With just one full-time earner and three full-time dependents, the Lu family’s pile of bills tends to shrink a little around mid-April.) But could anything be more slavish than celebrating the return of some small portion of one’s own earnings, as though this is a mark of Uncle Sam’s bounteous generosity? Why not call ourselves a Socialist Republic right now and get it over with?
The Tea Party has taken another angle on Tax Day by hosting protests nationwide. This makes plenty of sense if you’re the Tea Party. Unfortunately, I can’t really see the tradition catching on with the mainstream American public. Most taxpayers are sufficiently beaten down at this point that they aren’t going to take the time to attend a Tax Day rally. Parties are more fun than protests. Bowing to that reality, I have a suggestion for a Tax Day celebration that might more appropriately shape the sensibilities of the American people. I propose we declare April 15 Commerce Appreciation Day.
The inspiration for this holiday came to me a couple of years ago when I first discovered the goodness of Tax Day Freebies. If you weren’t aware of this delightful phenomenon, allow me to enlighten you. Every year on and around Tax Day, many businesses do special promotions ostensibly intended to ease the pain of paying taxes. You can get free fries, cookies, sticky buns, and coffee. Businesses have even been known to distribute free sex toys. (Of course I realize that no good conservative would ever want those.)
Living close to that mecca of global commerce, the Mall of America, I realized that Tax Day could become our spring version of Halloween. This has now become our annual tradition. Free food is pretty awesome when you have lots of little eaters in tow. Strolling the mall and reaping the bounty of Tax Day freebies was so much fun that I actually started to feel bad about it. What sort of lesson was I teaching the kids by making the Day of Big Government into such a jolly holiday?
Then it came to me. There was no problem with our festivities. Here we were on the day of governmental overreach, relaxing in the temple of capitalism as we drank in (sometimes literally) the goodness of free enterprise. The market giveth; the government taketh away. That was the lesson of our Tax Day idyll.
I plan to keep collecting my April 15 Great American Cookie for as long as they’ll give it to me, but it recently occurred to me that we should take this one step further. If free enterprise is generating the wealth that the government so greedily appropriates, we should dedicate the day to the makers. Throw them parades. Write them thank you notes. Whatever we can do to let they’re appreciated.
Thank you, one-percenters! You are the true work horses of the American taxpaying population. Bill Gates, I hate your social views, but I’ll still give you credit for your whopping tax contribution. Same goes to you, George Soros. Warren Buffett, thanks for being a team player for once in your life. Walton family, way to get it done. Koch brothers, I’ll have no compunction about raising a glass to you this Tax Day.
Now, let’s take a moment to honor all those wonderful corporations out there who are filling up the public coffers. I’m thinking of oil and gas companies, pharmaceutical companies, box stores and banks. What’s that I hear? You didn’t think the oil and gas companies paid any taxes. Well, you might not have gotten the whole story.
What with the tax code being a hairy, complicated monster, there are lots of ways to manipulate the numbers. But if we look at effective tax rates, the oil companies chip in more than a pretty penny. When we look at their cumulative tax burden (counting local and state taxes), ExxonMobil and Chevron together put more than 50 billion into the public coffers last year. Who are the real public servants, again?
Anyway, this Tax Day I’ll be wearing my Exxon fan girl shirt with pride. (That’s a real thing. I have a brother-in-law at Exxon.) And I would urge you all to send out a hearty cheer to Apple, Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan and Walmart. You guys sure stepped up to the plate for your old Uncle Sam. To McDonald’s, Coca Cola and Philip Morris International… way to go. Without you, our troops would probably be eating sand right now, and Grandma would have been pushed off the cliff long ago.
When you think about it, it’s actually kind of shameful that there isn’t cheering and spontaneous street-dancing along Wall Street each April 15. The reason, of course, is that tax contributions are not voluntary. That’s the magic of coercive taxation: you can live off somebody else’s earnings and not even have to be grateful. It’s really the thing I hate most about taxation, and wealth redistribution especially. By making poverty-relief into a science, we’ve squeezed all the moral goodness right out it. No need for generosity anymore, or gratitude! Just audit, disburse, and everybody move on with your selfish lives. Hooray for the virtue-free society!
Let’s fight back by showing some gratitude. As a freelance-writing mother of three, I definitely don’t pay my fair share, so I’m happy to lead the cheer. We’ve dedicated special days to thanking mothers, fathers, soldiers, nurses, teachers, administrative professionals, public servants, mental health workers and childcare providers, and it seems pretty ridiculous that we shouldn’t have one to honor top taxpayers.
So this is me, a minimally employed philosopher-mom, thanking America’s financial titans for keeping the wheels on. If it were up to me you’d pay a lot less taxes than you do. But I’m grateful that somebody out there still earns our keep.
Rachel Lu teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas. Follow her on Twitter.