A Day Late, A Dollar Short

I meant to post this yesterday, not because it’s about taxes, but because it sprung from a conversation I had with an unconventionally diverse group I suddenly find myself breaking bread with every month, and that conversation started with a healthy debate about taxes.

The second half of the title is an irrelevant nod to the fact that no matter how much I overpay the federal government over the course of any given year, I always end up owing the state a smallish, but still annoying, amount of money.

My lunch time group is not really diverse at all: not counting me, it’s four white Mormon upper middle class men, all lawyers, all married, all in their late twenties or early thirties. Boring, right? So we rely on politics to inject heat into the conversation, and it always works because we’ve got a run-of-the-mill conservative who probably voted for Mitt, a moderate independent that’s really just apathetic, an Ayn Rand loving libertarian, a classic progressive liberal, and a self-proclaimed, but not-quite-dues-paying socialist. You can probably guess where I fall in that lineup.

So we got to talking about taxes and whether humans can be trusted to do things like take care of their homeless without government intervention (not that any government is really doing a good job with that in the U.S.) and the guy who saw the movie version of The Fountainhead on opening day threw out a reference to some study that shows that conservatives donate more to charity than liberals every year. Huh.

Of course, you have to factor in that a lot of those donations are to churches, and so technically count as charitable donations, even though a big chunk of that money goes to things like building flashy new church buildings, not shelter for the homeless. I’m not saying that building flashy new buildings is so bad. I mean, members of the LDS faith donate 10% of their income to the church, and much of that is used to build temples and meetinghouses and to fund missionaries. I think these are all great causes, but they don’t really do anything for people who aren’t of my faith, and, accordingly, don’t go a long way in eliminating the need for government welfare programs.

You also have to factor in that even if everybody in the world gave all kinds of money to all sorts of lovely charities, you still need to build prisons, and most people aren’t going to direct their cash to providing humane living conditions for prisoners.

You can read a column about it here. I don’t really have much more to say about it than that. I haven’t had enough life experience as a real adult with real adult friends bringing home real paychecks to comment on charitable giving. Here is what I do know:

  • At a networking seminar, I learned that the two best ways to engage another person is by getting them to talk about their children or their charities.
  • When I was raising money so that I could run the Chicago Marathon a few years ago, my broke grad school friends and family members of modest means were way more generous than the lawyers, or even the law students, that I know (and yes, I know law school is expensive, but most of my classmates were coming off summer internships that paid over $30K for eight to ten weeks of work).
  • The more I make, the harder it is to part with my money.
  • The more I donate, the easier it gets.
  • Sometimes, my bleeding heart politics combine with my service-heavy religion and I feel like I’m doing more than my part and wince when someone at works asks me to write a check for this or that charity.

Given all that, I don’t mind paying taxes so much. I may not be committed to a particular charity, but I’m committed to my government, and if it’s not working exactly the way I want it to, I have incentive to try to make it work better or differently. And I’m grateful for any reminder that wealth is transient and my money isn’t really mine to give. 

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1 Response to A Day Late, A Dollar Short

  1. Pingback: On Waiting | Bending the Rules

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