Musing about taxes


I’d consider Gerald Harris, editor/publisher of the LaMoure Chronicle and a couple of other North Dakota weekly newspapers, a friend, even though I have only met him in person one time, and then briefly, and even though we may well walk different paths ideologically.

But when I get to his town to visit my relatives, one of my must-buys is his newspaper, and I buy it so that I can read his opinion.

He tells it as he sees it. Dammit! And he seems willing to share other points of view.

So, I bought his newspaper on Saturday, and read his column, which was about re-doing the U.S. tax system – an ever popular coffee shop topic, whether in bib-overalls and seed caps, or business suits.

Gerald’s scheme was three tiered: 1) get rid of all deductions for anything, making a tax department unnecessary; 2) apply a value-added tax to all goods produced; 3) make some kinds of sales tax universal on everything. To deal with the vexing problem of people with nothing, he proposed an allotment of $600 per month per person, payable in two lump sums each year. The lucky poor would get $3600 checks twice a year, to steward carefully or squander…their choice.

The other culprits in his scheme: those evil politicians – always the easy ones to kick around, even though they are doing our collective bidding…so they can be elected or reelected.

I sent this reponse to Mr. Harris, which he may or may not reprint this week:

“Saturday afternoon after Mass I was standing outside Holy Rosary Church chatting with a couple of LaMoure friends. A young woman, dressed in summer clothes with a couple of small inexpensive backpacks, approached us and asked how to get to ______, a North Dakota town we knew was five or six driving hours away. She had been put out of where she’d been staying in LaMoure, and told to walk home. She didn’t even know the direction to walk. My friends helped as they could, staying with the young woman until they were comfortable she had the help she needed.

I learned the next day that the young lady – she said she was 21 – probably was taken to Jamestown for the late bus, and delivered to relatives in Bismarck. Perhaps this will show up in the police report in this week’s Chronicle. It was a quiet drama – one which most of the churchgoers probably weren’t aware was even happening, though they were milling around nearby.

After this unanticipated encounter, back in my room, I read your musings on reforming the tax system in this country, including the quotation provided by “a banker”** and your suggestion that each person get $600 a month, paid in lump sums twice a year.

Opinion intersected with harsh reality.

Taxes are easy to kick around, especially by those who are expected to pay it. The scheme always seems to be how to avoid as much taxes as possible, and switch the remaining tax burden to somebody else. The rich have platoons of lawyers and lobbyists to skew the law in their favor. Unlike corporations, who are now, legally, “persons,” people like that young woman have no clout, no knowledge, no voice…

Greed is always a silent player in these conversations about individual rights versus community responsibility. The richer one is, it seems, the more that person feels entitled to their riches, as if he or she really “earned” them.

North Dakota is, I have heard, one of the wealthier states in the U.S. Why is it that there seems an inverse relationship between wealth and true generosity?

I wonder what has happened to that young woman I saw last Saturday; I wonder if anybody much cares.”

I sent the editor a link to this recent column on the issue of the rich and taxes.

An e-friend reminded me that Richard Nixon, long ago, had once thought of a yearly stipend of $25,000 per family to stimulate the American economy…

** From a banker: “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of the people.” Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Thomas Cooper, 1802.