“Taxes are not levied for the benefit of the taxed.”
– Robert Heinlein

“There are two methods, or means, and only two, whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means.”
– Albert Jay Nock

I know, I know. War with Iraq is looming. Common sense dictates that I should write this day about that war. I’m not. I’m writing about taxes. April 15 is just a month away … there is much to be said.

April 15 is depressing … and not just because your taxes are due. This is the day when a simple question can lead to the discovery that most people have no idea how much income tax they pay, though this is becoming less and less true as we go along. There is one group that does know how much federal income tax they pay every year, and this group is growing ever larger. It’s that segment of wage earners who pay nothing. So, we’ll revise this statement to read: “Most people who actually do pay federal income taxes have no idea how much they pay.”

For proof, try this little test: Approach a friend or co-worker whom you actually suspect may pay federal income taxes and ask them what their tax tab was. You will get one of two responses. For the majority of taxpayers who actually get refunds, the response will be “I didn’t have to pay anything! I’m getting some back!” Taxpayers who actually have to write a check on April 15 will quote the amount of that check as their tax bill.

This is all by design. Politicians know that if those who pay federal income taxes knew what they were really paying there would be an instantaneous and ugly tax revolt. To hide the ugly truth, these politicians have kept alive our wonderful system of withholding. With the magic of withholding, the money is gone before the wage earner even gets the slightest whiff of it. It’s almost as if it was never really there in the first place … so, what’s to miss?

Not only do most people not know how much tax they pay, they don’t even know what they make!

You’ve already asked your co-worker how much tax they had to pay in 2001, and they didn’t know. Now, ask them how much they make! Most will tell you it’s none of your business. Some will respond, though, and their response will begin with the words, “I take home …”

If you wanted to be particularly obnoxious at this point – or if you fancy yourself to be a radio talk-show host – you could say: “I didn’t ask you how much you took home. I asked you how much you made.” Then, standby for the inevitable blank stare.

See how well this system of withholding taxes has worked! The majority of wage earners can’t even tell you what they earned! Just what they “took home.” It’s as if they viewed their “take home” pay as their total earnings! No wonder they don’t think they paid any taxes when they get that refund check from the IRS!

There is one group that does know how much tax they paid. That group is the self-employed! The owners of small businesses – the businesses that employ about 80 percent of the workers in this country … they know. These are the people who have to sit down four times a year and write a check to the IRS for their quarterly tax payments. You ask these people how much they paid and they’ll be able to tell you … to the penny! By the way – these people are a minority of the taxpayers, but they pay most of the taxes.

Withholding was sold to the American wage earner as a purely temporary measure to speed up cash flow to the government during World War II. As soon as the war was over, things were supposed to return to normal and the wage earners would get their entire checks, just as before the war.

In case you haven’t checked, the war has been over for about 58 years or so, but withholding is still with us. It’s still with us because the proliferation of the “I take home …” workers and the “I didn’t have to pay anything, I’m getting some back” taxpayers are such a boon to our politicians. As long as the majority remain ignorant of the extent to which their paychecks are plundered, politicians will be safe.

Now … get those tax returns completed and then completely forget what they say so that you can join the ranks of the unknowing.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.