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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Empathizing on tax day

<d the privilege of a truly inspiring experience. It was a moment of organic empathy, where all of my situation’s factors influenced my emotions to truly feel how others felt. I had this experience, because for the first time, I paid my taxes. I felt a tinge of frustration when I saw the number: 417. I had to pay four hundred and seventeen dollars of my hard earned money! I was being forced to pay this to some government bureaucrat, some impersonal agency called the IRS, where surely I wouldn’t see the benefits of those dollars for which I had toiled. Public goods? What are these public goods? I’d do better to spend the money myself! For most of my life I have considered myself a liberal, but in this brief moment of despair I suddenly realized why there were so many conservatives. Because at that moment right there, when you have to cut a check for the United States Treasury, there is a loss of control of your money that is incredibly disconcerting, a feeling that someone is taking away something you worked hard for.

Cheer up I thought to myself. That money is going to invest in our nation, help those who are less fortunate, and pay the people keeping me safe everyday. Eventually, I came to my senses. And this isn’t to say that anti-tax conservatives aren’t sensible, just that I have a real hard time with the “I deserve this money that I worked hard for” argument; and although I understood that argument briefly, it was mighty brief. See, I just think we take ourselves too seriously when we say this. There is no doubt that most successful people, or most working people for that matter, work very hard, but to discount the amount of luck those have experienced and help from others they have received is plain foolish. Warren Buffet, the third richest man in the world, likes to remind people that he is as successful as he is because he was lucky enough to be born at just the right time, in the right country, in the right situation.

And I’m sure he would agree with the idea that he has made money very much because of his personal talents as well, but he is also incredibly lucky that he was born at a time when those talents were valued so highly. Furthermore, of course he has worked hard to hone those skills so that they are so effective, but there’s no feeling of entitlement. There’s no bitter sentiment of having to help out those who haven’t shared the same luck. And that’s the point. So many of our country’s wealthiest cannot imagine what it is like to be poor, to be born into the cycle of desperation that is the life struggle of so many; or to work a full time job, or two, and remain unable to make a living. That is the type of empathy we need more of, not the kind I felt writing that check.

On Wednesday, somebody said something to me that was deeply troubling. She said, “Did you know that upper middle class and upper class people have to pay 40% of their income to the government? That means they are working almost half of the year for the government!” Well first of all, no, they’re working 40% of the year working for the government by your logic. And second of all, in this land, aren’t we supposed to be the government? Paying taxes is not throwing money into some drain; it is giving back to the collective. It is thanking our peers for valuing what we have to offer. Now that is a true free market philosophy. So when you see your bank account take a hit in the next few weeks, relax, and smile! If you have to pay a lot in taxes, life is probably pretty good.

-David Heifetz is a Carletonian columnist

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