While I would never presume to contradict the inimitable Ron Swanson, he left out half the lesson. Sure, the guv’mint takes a percentage of your money in taxes. But it’s not all doom and gloom and stolen lunches! For as they say, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” and those dastardly G-men actually give us a useful thing or two in exchange for our taxes.
So listen up, kids! Your days of hating taxes are about to come to… a middle!
What are taxes?
Some view taxes as a reverse-Robin-Hoodian scam in which the powerful rob from the poor and hoard for the rich. I mean, what else are we to think when you don’t get to keep 100% of the money you earn to do with as you please?
No, stop clenching your fists and waving your pitchforks! That’s the opposite of what I wanted from you!
Listen, taxes serve a valuable purpose in civilized society. They’re basically the annual fee we pay for membership in the country. We pay a percentage of our money in taxes to our city, state, and federal governments, and in exchange those governments do things for us. And since I assume you like having roads to drive on, schools for educating the next generation, and the Post Office, then taxes really aren’t all that bad.
We get taxed in a number of ways. Here are some of the most common forms of taxation:
- Income tax: These taxes come directly out of your pay check. Basically, it means you get taxed for making money, which… isn’t as bad as it sounds.
- Property tax: If you own land or a home, it’s taxed. If you have a mortgage, the taxes on your property are included in the cost of the mortgage. If you don’t have a mortgage, you’ll have to settle up once a year during Tax Season (more on that below).
- Sales tax: Calculated into the cost of the goods you’re purchasing at check out. You’re getting taxed for buying stuff.
- Capital gains tax: You pay this tax if you profit from your investments, whether it be in the stock market or from the sale of property.
- Estate tax: If you leave money and property behind for your heirs when you shuffle off this mortal coil, they’ll get taxed on it. Which sounds cruel, but really only applies to those who can seriously afford to pay such a tax.
- Corporate and business taxes: Just like it sounds, these are the taxes paid on sales, capital gains, income, and property paid by a business or corporation instead of an individual.
State taxes vs. federal taxes
Here is a partial list of things your city and state taxes fund:
- Education (preschool, public schools, state universities, community colleges, vocational institutions)
- Health care (Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, etc.)
- Transportation (roads, bridges, buses, subways)
- Corrections facilities (jails, prisons, juvenile detention facilities, parole programs)
- Low-income assistance (check out our article on How to Start at Rock Bottom for more)
- State and local police forces, fire departments, and first responders
- Environmental programs
- Health insurance, pensions, and other benefits for public employees
- Care for residents with disabilities
- Parks and recreation
- Economic development
- THE MUTHAFUCKIN PUBLIC LIBRARY
- Other useful shit in and around your city and state
It’s pretty easy to justify paying your local taxes. After all, I think my regular use of the public library alone justifies the taxes I pay in my state. And for more on how you too can take advantage of all them taxes you’re paying for the public library, check out these heartfelt odes to the library written by your humble Bitches:
- The Library Is a Magical Place and You Should Fucking Go There
- Your Library Lets You Stream Audiobooks and Ebooks FOR FREEEEE
Local taxes result in tangible improvements in your immediate surroundings. Infrastructure is improved, schools are built, parks are maintained. Your street lights remain lit, your city bus runs on time, and your trash gets picked up. All good things!
By contrast, it is sometimes harder to see—or justify—the benefits of our federal taxes.
I know, Nelly, I know. But here are some of the ways our federal tax dollars are used:
- Defense and security (all branches of the armed forces)
- Social Security (you’re welcome, Grandma)
- Major health programs (Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, etc)
- The Social Safety Net (unemployment insurance, food stamps, low-income housing assistance, social services for children, and much, much more)
- Interest on the national debt (which we owe to… other countries I guess? Definitely not the Decepticons.)
- Benefits for federal employees and veterans (must… resist… criticizing the VA…)
- Scientific and medical research
- Foreign aid
- Various government agencies (FBI, CIA, EPA, GTE*)
- Arts and culture (the National Endowment for the Arts among other programs, though this is honestly such a minuscule part of the budget I hesitate to include it)
- Infrastructure (because we don’t have enough of this sexy shit in the state and local spending)
Like 98% of political disagreements concern how our taxes are allocated among the above line items. Politics is fun, you guys!
*Not actually a government agency. Just some random letters I threw together. But I had you googling for a second there, didn’t I?
“I don’t want to pay for [insert tax-funded thing here]!”
Sorry cupcake. That’s not how it works. We are all in this together, and that means we all pay for stuff that isn’t personally useful or pleasing, but helps out somebody else in this gigantic syndicate we call a country.
I feel you! But listen. I personally am pretty unhappy that my taxes are funding drone strikes on civilians in Afghanistan. I’d love to trade with the guy who complains about his taxes going to fund Planned Parenthood*, but we don’t get to choose.
What we do get to do is find a big old straw so we can suck it up.
Oh yeah, and voting helps too.
Again, most of politics is deciding how to use taxes.** So if you’re angry about your taxes being used to fund the CIA when you would rather they went to Meals On Wheels, fucking register to vote and remind your elected officials that those fuckers work for you.
*Because of the Hyde Amendment, taxes cannot be used to fund abortions. Planned Parenthood and other reproductive healthcare clinics aren’t even a line item in the federal budget. No, when people talk about “federal funding for abortions,” they’re talking about how people who pay for their healthcare with Medicaid and Medicare get treatment at Planned Parenthood and other clinics that happen to provide abortions. So it follows that “defund Planned Parenthood” actually means “defund Medicaid,” which actually actually means “I don’t think poor people should be allowed to receive healthcare.” Just so we’re clear. #prochoice #feminism
**Not intended to be a factual statement.
Beware the Ides of April
When we talk about “doing your taxes,” we’re referring to the time of year when we all file paperwork with the IRS. This paperwork reports your income, expenses, and other relevant information. It’s what allows you to calculate tax liability, schedule tax payments, or request a refund for paying more taxes than necessary during the year.
Simply put: on the 15th of April, the paperwork that will determine whether you owe the government still more taxes or whether they owe some back to you is due.
That’s right. It sucks especially hard for people who work multiple part-time jobs or run their own small businesses, who might not pay income taxes throughout the year. They need to make sure they have enough set aside to pay The Man on April 15th. And if they don’t have it, they’re fucked.
A lot of people get tax refunds, which sounds exciting but is actually a bittersweet reminder that the government held onto your money all year long and is just now returning it to you. Thanks, government. Not like I could’ve used that money when I earned it.
If you’re tired of paying taxes and would prefer to spend your money on a worthy cause… well, you’re shit out of luck because you don’t get to opt out of taxes without opting out of every country on Earth and moving to Mars to grow potatoes.
But if you’d like to spend some money on a worthy cause in addition to your taxes, then I humbly suggest you join our Patreon. We will definitely use your money to buy cheese crackers and spend hours dissecting Disney movies, which I think we can all agree is way more important than the national infrastructure.