A Taxing Issue


Death and taxes, they say are the only two inevitabilities on the planet. Everything else can be rescheduled, dodged or bargained away. Benjamin Franklin usually gets the credit – or the blame – for saying so.

Funny thing, though… no matter how inevitable, neither one of those things is particularly enjoyable.

Fortunately, 20th century comic and pundit Will Rogers did have a lighter take on the topic. And as usual for Old Will, there’s even a sliver of truth in it. He once said, “The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”

Actually, I don’t happen to agree that those are the only those two things nobody can avoid. The evidence suggests – my evidence is the 7 billion of us, and the 15,000 more born every hour, who are now crawling around on dry land – that there is at least one other thing we humans do that is also pretty much inevitable… and it is not generally considered unpleasant at all.

One more thing seems inevitable. Some of us wind up with more and others of us wind up with less. Of everything. Food. Clothing. Shelter. Money. Safety. Friends. Etc.

This election season I discovered a very interesting thing about a democracy connected to the less/more thing. Democracy says those differences do not have to be inevitable. Democracy is an anti-poverty strategy.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is credited with writing, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In a democracy we pledge not to violate those rights and to oppose any thing or person who tries to do so.

As a result, political scientists say that in a democratic nation the poor impose a tax on the rich with the willing consent of the rich for the sake of those ideals they are pledged to hold in common.

When the rich impose taxes on the poor, on the other hand, inequality increases and weighs against the fair and equal … unalienable rights of … life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Nobody wants to be unfairly taxed or forced to pay unfair taxes. We had the famous Boston Massacre over that issue and coined the phrase almost every student (is supposed to have) learned, “No taxation without representation.”

But what about those in a democratic nation who seem to inevitably have less and those who just as inevitably seem to have more?

That question challenges our commitment to Jefferson’s words. Maybe I do not need quite so many tax laws to remind me to do something my own convictions should prompt me to do on my own.

Does it really take hard coin and folding money to assure my fellow citizens that I respect their equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

If you are one, as I am, who has a little more, it might be interesting to recall how we got it.

It could be anything from education to talent to faith to family to the freedom-to-try-something-new, or a hundred others. Whatever it was, it probably came from someplace inside, deeper than your pocket.

Lots of people are already working on the inevitable problem of who should pay what and how much to whom. Let’s leave those battles to them, just for a minute. They will come up with something.

Is there a more important tax we owe each other? Something we pay from the heart rather than the pocket simply because of a commitment to Jefferson’s words. There’s something about community, brotherhood and respect that can go much farther toward fostering life, liberty, and happiness than money can buy.

Maybe in this election season that just passed, it is worth a few moments to consider how to live – not just how to pay – so that we can contribute to and enhance, the lives of others. The most important taxation we owe each other in a well-regulated democracy is personal, not monetary.

As to what that “coin” looks like, that’s up to you. Give it some thought. And, of course, enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut

Previous articleCat got your tongue?
Next articleElections and Transitions
Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.