Death's Probably Not That Bad Either
The tax deadline is just around the corner, and with it comes the unwelcome corollary of bad humor. One might think that the real pain of the season comes from the dough you have to shell out (or, if you're a Fortune 500 company, deciding whether you want to pick up a Gulfstream or a Lear Jet with your refund).
Far worse for most of us, though, is having to put up with the endless barrage of bad jokes and tired sketches revolving around that April 15 th deadline. Leno will have a monologue on obscure tax bylaws, Letterman will interview the line of procrastinators stretching outside the post office at crunch time, and comics pages across the country will be engulfed in a whorl of dashes and swirls indicating haste, stress, and profound regret. All of these setups have come through repetition to be about as funny as the I.R.S. itself (Official Motto: No, we aren't kidding). People put off doing their taxes, which they don't understand very well--we get it already.
Left unsaid in this great piling-on on our citizen's obligations is the fact that some of us, deviants probably, actually like doing their taxes. Instead of seeing our W2's and 1040's as extractors meant to tap into our very lifeblood, we like to look at it as a big game.
After all, what are tax documents but federal versions of Games magazine? Throw in the fact that there's money involved and it's like playing word games at Vegas, high stakes all the way, with the casino providing you with your own copy of Hoyle. It's a challenge, it's fun, and if you play your cards right you might just end up coming out ahead.
For many of us, English majors excepted, one of the great things about tax time is that it gives us a chance to do math again. America's a big country, full of millions of Mathcounts alums and senior calculus curve setters whose forays into the world of numbers have been reduced to balancing their checkbook and explaining to friends why they won't win the lottery.
Tax forms give us an opportunity to stretch back to the glory days when your worth was measured by getting the numbers to come out correctly, not by what the numbers themselves are (especially those in Form 1040 line 22).
Tax time is the math whiz's chance to be a hero again, to dazzle the uninitiated with your skill at table reading, and addition and subtraction, maybe even a little multiplication if you're lucky. For real mathophiles the problem with the tax code isn't that it's too complicated; it's that it isn't complicated enough. Most of the stuff in there is sixth grade level, tops.
Where's the polar coordinates, or derivatives, or imaginary numbers? Sure, taxes are fun, but they'd be even better if the size of the refund you got depended less on the accountant you hire and more on your ability to solve a quadratic equation.
Still, even those who never worked up a real taste for variables can enjoy doing their taxes. Critical reading types can rejoice in the brainteasers put forth by the accompanying material. Any jerk pulling six figures can hire some schlub to tell him or her where the loopholes are; the true taxista does it themself, treating the whole enterprise like one big Where's Waldo, pulling out the cash-savers from the jumbles of jargon that surround them.
Need proof? Just look at the federal allowances for higher education. IRS Publication 970 lists twelve different instances where money spent on schooling can reduce your taxes, ranging from the Hope credit to the establishment of a Coverdell education savings account.
While a good accountant will probably save you from an evening and subsequent morning of swearing as you figure this out (and I mean the real dirty words too, the ones you don't even want your grandma to think that you know), it also robs you of the sense of triumph that accompanies the discovery that using the Lifetime Learning Credit instead of the tuition and fees deduction can put you three more dollars in the black. Ca-ching!
Factor in the pride component and you're looking at a hundred million dollars, easy, plus the fact that you don't feel like you Cliff-Noted your way through A Tale of Two Cites afterwards.
One last bonus about the whole tax process, beyond the nice mindstretch it gives you, is where the money goes: America! All of your tax dollars end up going to help out the good 'ol U.S. of A. in one way or another, and Lord knows she could use it. If the world of finance were replicated on an inner-city block right now Lady Liberty would be reduced to the role of giving back-alley handjobs to Southeast Asian financiers for rent money. Not a pretty picture.
The dire straits of the U.S. tax coffers were made clear by the recent "Report Card For America's Infrastructure" released by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Overall the country got a D, down from the far from stellar D+ received in 2003. The report, which graded categories such as drinking water, bridges, energy, hazardous waste, roads, and schools came to the conclusion that $1.6 trillion should be spent over the next five years to prevent further problems, including $94 billion in transportation alone. Unfortunately, the feds don't quite have that much socked away under the mattress.
Now call me a pinko-Commie, but I actually enjoy having an electric grid. Same thing goes for a decent school system, highways, mail delivery, and, even to be a little Red State about it, body armor for our boys over there in I-Raq.
Thing is, despite what Arnie and George are trying to tell you, this stuff doesn't come free. That's where my taxes come in, as much as I'm able, and that's also why any Richie Rich whining about their tax burden is the worst kind of carpetbagger, trying to get there's while the society they live in crumbles into shambles. My taxes prove I love America--write that as a fucking country song.
Ultimately, those who grouse about paying their taxes don't look at it the right way. Instead of comparing the whole process to the government swiping your wallet, it should be compared instead to impregnating a beautiful woman. The process itself is pretty fun, and, big-picture wise, things are looking up in the gene pool.
So, next April (or in the next two weeks if you haven't quite gotten around to them yet) instead of having the feeling that the government's screwing you, flip it around and make love to the government instead. If you give it your best shot, put all that you've got out there, maybe something beautiful will spring forth from your fiscal loins