Sunday, February 11, 2007

The check that ended my liberalism

“If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”

--Winston Churchill
I remember having conversations with my slacker musician buddies in my twenties about how cool it would be to live in Sweeden or Belgium or The Netherlands or someplace up there because one of my friends read that the government there paid musicians to create their art. And there we were in college getting music degrees and wouldn't it be great if we could just play our music and have the government pay us? Art, baby. Art. Enlightened societies support the arts. And if there was ever an example of art that should be supported by an enlightened government, it was my college power-rock trio, with such original gems as You wouldn't be So Lonely (if you weren't such a bitch), I'm a Trisexual (I'll try anything), Happy Not Gay, and who could forget that future chart-topper, Dead Love, a cute little ditty about necrophelia.

Alas, we never got a record deal, nor did the government ever get liberal enough to support us. Of course, we never applied for any grants, so perhaps we should have been more proactive.

I remained pretty liberal until the late 90s. I was married, we could have been classified as yuppies. Two degreed professionals with no kids making what I guess would be classified as an upper-middle-class income. Still, it was a fairly modest lifestyle, we lived in a 1200 square foot house in a suburban neighborhood, had car payments and mortgage payments and did not light cigars with hundred dollar bills.

Around that time, the government passed some ridiculous new tax that was going to directly affect people who made what we made. (I don't remember which tax it was and I don't have time to go through the US Tax Code to refresh my memory.) I was talking to a friend who was in the same situation, a two-income professional couple with no kids. I said "what's the deal with that ridiculous new tax." He said, "It's just another 'soak the rich' tax." He looked at me and said, "I don't feel rich, do you?"

It was liberals calling me rich and wanting to take more of my money. I don't know what "rich" is, but it certainly wasn't me. We were doing just fine, but certainly not rich. That same year (remember the stock market irrational exuberance of the 90s?) we cashed in some stock options for some home repairs and to pay off some debts. The next spring, I had to write a check to Uncle Sam for $11,000 to make our total contribution to the government that year over $35,000. I stared at that check before putting it in the envelope, and every ounce of liberal-ness that was left in my body went into the envelope with it. Did I feel like I got $35,000 worth of government? Hell, no. What I felt like was that I would have been better off just not working. I've known other couples who intentionally have one person not work, because the other makes enough that most or all of the money from the second job would go to the government.

Great system, ain't it?

What got me thinking about this was Aunt B.'s post today:
If you help run an entity with non-profit status and a mission to make the world a better place, it is immoral for you to grow richer while some of your employees struggle. All the benefits packages in the world do not make your behavior less immoral and I, for one, think it's just time to say so out loud. If we're all in it together, we should all be in it together and if the CEO is doing much better than most, the groundskeeper ought to be doing much better than most.
That is the kind of liberal thinking that drives me crazy. The "rich" guy has too much and he should give some to the poor guy. Why should the groundskeeper do better than most? Because he keeps grounds at an art museum or an orphanage? He the fucking groundskeeper. It's supply and demand. There are a lot more people who can keep the grounds than people who can effectively run the business.

The problem with her situation is she is talking about entities with "non-profit status." What's immoral to me is that those entities don't pay taxes. The idea of not-for-profit organizations is liberal thinking at it worst. It is a huge scam. These organizatons help people, but they are still businesses. Just because you are a church or a jazz workshop or a halfway house for people with bad knees, you should still pay taxes. Either that, or no businesses should pay taxes.

It is a huge scam. I know. I used to work for one. I was marketing director for a live theater for six years. During the interview, I asked about the non-profit status. The director said, "Being a non-profit doesn't mean we don't get paid." So we ran the business day to day, and we bought office supplies and toilet paper and hired actors and designers and sold tickets and millions of dollars came in and millions of dollars went out, and non of it was taxed, sales, federal or otherwise. (Of course, my salary was taxed.) And "rich" people donated money to the theatre so they wouldn't have to pay taxes. And the reason there was no taxes paid was because there was a mission statement about making the world a better place and there was a little "outreach" and "education" aimed at exposing our next generation to the arts. See, enlightened societies do support the arts.

So the trick to being a non-profit, (other than having a mission to make the world a better place) is to have the books come out to zero profit at the end of the year. An easy way to do that if you are running one and you are good at running it and your organization is threatening to make a profit is to pay yourself more. And, according to Aunt B., the moral thing would be to pay the groundskeeper more.

The smart thing to do would be to quit letting people run businesses without paying taxes. I run an entity which is currently, unfortunatley, a non-profit. My business has a mission to make the world a better place in its own modest way. Why can't I not pay sales tax when I buy a new printer cartridge?

I've got an idea for tax reform. Instead of millions and millions of words, make it four.

Flat tax. Everybody pays.

11 Comments:

At 11:47 AM , Blogger Aunt B said...

I can't decide if I agree with you or disagree with you. My point, which I think you clearly got, is that if you're going to claim to be a non-profit that has a mission for improving the world, that world extends to your own section of it. Plus, if you have non-profit status because you need to operate outside of the rules of our economy in order to achieve your mission, then you can also operate outside of the rules of supply and demand.

I just don't believe that our country is a meritocracy or even set up to be, so I don't believe that people get paid what they're worth. And how much sooner is the absense of your janitorial staff going to be noticed than the absense of a CEO?

But that's kind of beside my point. My point is that it's bull to say "Oh, we're non-profit do-gooders, so we need special rules" when it benefits you and "Well, screw you, employees, that's just the way of supply-and-demand" when it benefits you.

One solution is to improve the lives of everyone in the organization.

The other is what you say, to remove their special status. I don't guess I see how that really improves things.

But I'm a commie, so what do I know?

 
At 12:11 PM , Blogger Nashville Knucklehead said...

I did notice that you simply said it was immoral. You know I would never let your point get in the way of making my point.

A good commie would demand that a subcommitee of elected officials come up with new regulations and forms to fill out to ensure that the groundskeepers get more of the CEO's money.

 
At 1:55 PM , Blogger Aunt B said...

Oh my god! You have been spying on our meeting!

 
At 2:51 PM , Blogger Heather said...

I like the Fair Tax plan myself. It's a sales tax, the more you buy, the more you pay. It has a work around to ensure no one is taxed on what you would spend on necessities at the poverty level.

Check it out if you get a chance fairtax.org.

 
At 4:57 PM , Anonymous doug said...

What kills me is that Vanderbilt, with the largest endowment of any private U in the country, is tax-exempt. Explain that.

 
At 12:58 AM , Anonymous Jay said...

Since the "fair" or "flat" tax will never pass, we should at least stop having taxes taken straight out of people's paycheck. Make them write one big check every April 15th for the whole amount. And make election day April 16th.

 
At 9:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

FLAT TAX

 
At 10:16 AM , Blogger Exador said...

Go farther than that mamby-pamby flat tax.
Tax everybody, from Pedro the gardner to Lee Iaccoca, the same dollar amount.

I'm against all the tax exempt crap. Why are churches exempt? In Decatur, GA, there are so many "churches" they couldn't get the tax revenue to cover costs, so they started charging service fees for things like garbage pickup.

Hey, until Jehovah starts making their trash disappear, they should be paying for government services like everybody else.
Losers.

 
At 12:08 PM , Blogger unclewilly said...

A not-for-profit I'm associated with monitors its accounts so carefully that if it knows it's approaching profits (and it always knows) it simply gives away more services and makes more donations. The group I'm talking about happens to be a musical outfit full of conservatives (unlike myself). We've been playing music as a community service (and because it's fun) for over 22 years. Never made a dime, shouldn't be taxed.

 
At 2:59 PM , Anonymous Lily said...

well, I'll be. I'm a non-profit and didn't even know it.

 
At 9:30 AM , Blogger Spork In the Eye said...

no frickin way.

Okay, I know this thread is over a year old... but google is my friend.

I just wanted to say ... I was a total fan of your college band when I was a college lad. In fact, I was sitting here listening to "You wouldn't be so lonely if You weren't such a bitch" wishing you'd put "Christian Schoolgirls" on that demo tape.

 

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