Tax day, tea parties yesterday, but who should we be mad at?

Published 1:24 pm Thursday, April 16, 2009

The deadline to file federal income tax returns — and income tax returns in most, but not all, states — was yesterday and most folks are mad at having to pay taxes. That is a natural reaction and goes back to at least biblical times.

This year there is an added reason for anger — some of our taxes are going to bail out large companies, especially financial institutions. The idea of having to bail out the wealthy is enough to anger most anyone — except the wealthy who were bailed out.

Much of this anger is focused on government because that is the entity that levies, collects and spends the taxes. Everyone has pet peeves about money being spent on this project or that, though not on the projects of which the individual approves. Much of the anger over the years has been aimed at anything to help the poor, unfortunately, and not the wealthy. Everyone aspires to be wealthy and identifies more with those in that rarefied atmosphere than those down on the bottom, a place to which most people fear tumbling.

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The myths are that if you are poor, you are lazy and shiftless and therefore worthless, and conversely that if you work hard you will grow wealthy. As with all myths, there is some small truth in those myths, otherwise they wouldn’t be so durable.

Unfortunately, as many people are finding out today, you can work hard and suddenly find yourself out of work and falling down to that place most feared — being poor and dependent on handouts from the government, friends and charitable organizations. The protests yesterday, in my opinion, should have targeted the wealthy who have benefited from the bailouts and not government officials who found themselves in the unenviable position of having to help these institutions in their efforts to protect our jobs.

That fear and anger over the failure of the wealthy to live up to their myths has, in my opinion, a lot to do with the anger expressed in the “tea parties” that were held yesterday to protest taxes and how they are spent.

The anger, especially over the spending to rescue the wealthy, is justified, but it must also be tempered with reality. Probably the majority of those protesting at the tea parties have jobs and it’s easier to talk tough when you only hear the bullets but don’t feel their bite. Some folks, probably more of us than know it, have jobs because the financial institutions whose executives have enormously bloated incomes in relation to any work they may do were bailed out with our tax money.

Probably not many people remember the stories about the danger many businesses were in because there was no money to lend to businesses so they could meet payrolls. Those stories appeared one day and were gone the next because the bailouts of the financial institutions, those institutions that lend the operating money to the businesses, kept the predictions in the stories from coming true. The banks were “given” or “loaned” the money to lend the businesses to make payrolls.

Yes, a great many people have lost jobs because their companies don’t have enough business to keep all their employees Some businesses are failing, and that situation may grow worse, probably will grow worse. However, a complete collapse of the economic system would be much, much worse, which is why government, beginning with the previous administration, has taken on the highly unpopular task of propping up and bailing out financial institutions.

As for protests, I believe the two women who protested at the meeting of investors to whom Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein was speaking were more on target. They expressed their anger in the right place and to the right people, those who, with their financial shenanigans, brought down the nation’s and the world’s economy and caused the crisis.

Personally, I’m to the point about these CEOs and other financial institution executives to where I think they and their families should be stripped of their wealth to pay back some of the taxes they are causing to be spent to bailout their institutions. They should be put out on the streets with a worn-out shopping basket to carry their clothes. They would have to join the ranks of the homeless diving in garbage cans and begging alms to put food in their mouths and living in shipping crates and cardboard boxes.

I find it just that some of the tax breaks given the wealthy by the previous administration will soon go away and that those of us in the middle class have been given a tax break, though small, for once. The wealthy can most afford to pay taxes and should be taxed the most. I believe I recall a biblical injunction in Luke about that: “For unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required.” I don’t remember any verse that glorifies greed and hoarding, especially at the expense of others.

One thing about protests, be they latter day tea parties or some other form of protest, at least in this country they are not merely legal, they are a constitutional right.