No-tax day

April 15. I’m not a fan of tax day. Who is? After several tortuous weeks of determining whether I have excess distributions from my 529 plan  and deciding how much I owe to the two states I lived in last year, I’m in line at the post office to send all these forms and too many checks to too many different governments. I’ve had it. Why can’t we make society work without taxes? I’m willing to try, I think, as I dose off…

In the morning, it slowly dawns on me that I’ve awakened in a tax-free America. So far, it’s great; I didn’t need to set the alarm! No real point in taking the kids to school, if it’s even open today. I’m not wealthy, so I can’t afford one of the schools that is open five days a week, requires the teachers to have a degree, uses textbooks, and has standards about what my kids should learn during the year. When little Heather asks about whether she can go to college, I just laugh. We can’t pay the tens of thousands of tuition for a private college. There’s no grant or loan programs and womens’ sports don’t make a profit, so there are no athletic scholarships awaiting her. Child care is risky too, since nobody determines if day care operators are qualified, safe, and not just in it to find victims for something.

Being a product of the same education “system,” I don’t have a job today. There’s such a glut of unskilled workers like me that we are lucky to get occasional day labor in dangerous jobs where we may or may not actually get paid for our work at the end of the day. There’s hope for more job options, however, since Mexico, India, and China are outsourcing more simple jobs to the U.S. due to our lack of labor and  environmental protections.

Eventually I jump in the car (without seat belts or exhaust controls) and head for the grocery store. What an adventure! I  pay several tolls to drive on streets that aren’t even paved!  Most road owners don’t make enough to maintain the roads and none cooperate to create common tolls, be sure the roads line up, or provide traffic signals where they intersect. Forget about transit since it requires a tax subsidy even though its our most efficient means of transportation.

I drive very carefully, avoiding any chance of an accident. Without taxes, there is no neutral party to enforce laws or find fault in a collision. Even if I’m not at fault, there is not much point in taking my case to court. Courts  are financed through pay-per-verdict, so I’ll win only if I can outbid the jerk who hit me.

A lot of people don’t even try to go out. They stay home due to the threat of disease. Since nobody regulates what goes into food there are always people with salmonella, e coli, and complications from eating melamine. Without taxes to fund research, immunizations, and public health programs, there’s a lot more disease here than in more developed countries. It spreads like wildfire since so few people get adequate health care. If you come down with malaria or tuberculosis, you’d better have enough money to go to one of the few doctors who got to, if not through, one of the nation’s four medical schools. You wonder if it might be a good idea to have some authority who set standards for doctors, hospitals, and drug safety, but how would you pay for it?

When I get home, the house is gone! Without funding for local planning efforts there are no zoning or building codes. My neighbor’s tarpaper shack caught fire on a windy day, so my house burned down, too. You can’t work out community fire protection on a fee basis, so several houses were gone. No worries, though. The rumor is  someone is buying up neighboring properties to store toxic waste; that will kill property values and maybe us, too. Too bad we can’t find some way to separate residences from more dangerous land uses!

By the end of the day, I’m exhausted. I realize I’m in what a smart English guy called a few hundred years ago “war of all against all.” And I can’t stand it….

Happily, I wake up in line at the post office just in time to buy the stamps and send the taxes off. I’m still not smiling, but I’m okay with it.


Paul Shinn

Paul Shinn served as Budget and Tax Senior Policy Analyst with OK Policy from May 2019 until December 2021. Before joining OK Policy, Shinn held budget and finance positions for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the Department of Human Services, the cities of Oklahoma City and Del City and several local governments in his native Oregon. He also taught political science and public administration at the University of Oklahoma, University of Central Oklahoma, and California State University Stanislaus. While with the Government Finance Officers Association, Paul worked on consulting and research projects for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and several state agencies and local governments. He also served as policy analyst for CAP Tulsa. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from University of Oklahoma and degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland College Park. He lives in Oklahoma City with his wife Carmelita.

6 thoughts on “No-tax day

  1. Consider also, without taxes, there would be no Medicare, no Social Security, no defense expenditures, no care for veterans, no firefighters, no police officers.

  2. Obvouisly, the thought of no taxes is ridiculous… but also ridiculous is the thought that many average people want to do away with taxes completely. Most people are aware that taxes are needed and useful. I think that most people who call for changes in our taxes are protesting government waste, useless projects, pork, corruption, etc. Your argument is similar to making the argument that anyone who is against global warming would like to see all cars disappear tomorrow. Irrational arguments are typically seen as such and written off very easily.

    1. Absolutely true and I would not want to take this argument too many places. This seems like a good way to point out how much we depend on tax-supported services. Practically speaking, almost any lowering of taxes will reduce some or all of the tax-supported services I missed in my dream.

  3. I think no government will be able to completely escape corruption as long as it involves human beings and the alternative could be simply anarchy. Obviously, the citizens who call for broad changes in taxes need to be careful they “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

  4. But you’ve ignored the important question of WHAT ought we to tax, and what ought we NOT to tax?

    Don’t stay trapped in the income tax box, and similarly, don’t jump into the equally miserable sales or consumption tax box.

    Rather, look to taxes on that which none of us create individually: that which the classical economists called land, but which today includes things they’d never heard of: geosynchronous orbits, electromagnetic spectrum, water rights, rush hour landing rights at LaGuardia, as well as urban land values, which can be as much as 10,000 times the value of the best agricultural land. Yes. 10,000 times as much. (A good acre of ag land might be worth $5,000 per acre; an acre of urban land can be worth $500 million or more. Seriously!) And perhaps Leona Helmsley was not talking about tax evasion when she said “WE don’t pay taxes; the little people pay taxes.” She was describing how we structure ourselves. We very generously skip taxing the privatized value of socially-created land values. Aren’t we nice? And then we fund infrastructure and services through taxing wages and sales. What a racket! What a mistake!

    see lvtfan and wealthandwant for more on these ideas.

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