Should I Refuse My Tax Refund?

Should I refuse to accept my tax “refund”, yes or no?

It is not really a refund.  Since I have children, I get the Earned Income Credit.  Free money.

Harry Dexter White suggested that I take my refund and then give it to the richest person I know, since the money is coming from the taxes that rich people pay.  This is a novel idea.  Do you have a better one?

You may think I am joking, but I am genuinely having a little moral dilemma here.  I can use the money.  There is no one who can’t use the money.  But should I use it? (I am constantly asking myself what I should do.)  I’ve taken the refund before, but after a certain number of conversations with Mr. Harry Tuttle, I have begun to feel a bit like a leech for doing so. (Not that Mr. Tuttle called me a leech.)

The problem is, I can’t see who it would help to not take it.  Like many “sticking to principles” actions, the benefits are spiritual.  The good result that I can forsee would be that I would be able to say to myself, and to Mr. Tuttle or anyone else who feels that our tax structure is unfair to the well-off and the middle classes, that he didn’t pay my “refund.” I accepted no handout from the government.   They are not paying me for anything.  I owe them nothing.  Their handouts are not affecting my desire or ability to be a productive citizen.

Friends have argued that we (my wife and I) are good people.  We deserve it, or at least we will put it to good use.  We are better stewards of that money than the government.  The government is going to take all sorts of money from me over the course of my life – I should take what I can get.  I wish all of these arguments convinced me that I should take it, but they don’t.  Because they don’t really address the issue of whose money it is.

However, if I do succeed in convincing myself that taking the refund is the right thing to do, here is the argument I might use:

There is no such thing as a “fair” tax structure, and if there is, I don’t know what it is.  (Perhaps a taxes-by-donation setup, like a church.) There is no possible way to spend all taxes in a way that pleases all of the people who pay the taxes.  Fair doesn’t exist.  It is the duty of the government to spend the taxes in a way that will most help the common good.  Giving some of that money to M. Ragazzo may or may not benefit the common good.  (Actually, I am such a blessing to humanity that helping me is helping the world.)  But that is what our governement is choosing to do.  The thing I should be having a dilemma about is not whether or not to take the money, but what to do with it when I get it.  I didn’t ask for the money.  It is not as if I am going to the government and applying for a handout instead of for a job.  It is something that is just coming to me.

So that might be my argument.  I am not completely convinced yet.  I talked about taxes with Mr.Tuttle a little last night.  He wants everyone to pay for what he uses.  He says that government is a service, or a store.  If you don’t pay, you don’t get the goods.  You shouldn’t get service.

Harry Tuttle wants each person to earn his keep.  I agree that it is a sin to bury talent, to not work, to squander time and wealth.  And a handout to someone who is already squandering what he already has probably doesn’t help him.  I have seen how handouts hurt people and keep them dependent.  Perhaps my yearly check from the IRS hurts me.

But none of us earn our keep.  We are given life as a free gift.  From the moment we are born we receive and receive and receive without earning any of it.  When we grow to adulthood we continue to receive and benefit from all the free training, love and care and good genes we were given as children.  Even a wild caveman who hunts for a living does not earn his keep.  He did not make the deer, he merely kills and eats them.  He works, but he doesn’t earn.  No matter what we do or how hard we work, there is nothing we have that did not start out as a gift.

In my family, we expect more from our daughter who is older, and less from her younger sister.  We expect nothing from the two-week old baby.  None of my children earn their keep.  But they help, according to their abilities.  It is not fair.  Sometimes the younger sister takes advantage of the fact that we expect less from her and she torments her older sister.  Sometimes the older sister takes uses her superior strength and experience to get what she wants from her younger sister.  We try to give each of them as much freedom as they can safely  handle.  We try not to intervene in every little dispute they have.  We respect their property rights.  Each of them has belongings that they are not required to share, but they do learn that they must share as a general rule.  Ultimately, we all share everything.

I don’t know that a country can be, or should be run just like a family, but it’s something I’ve thought about.  In a family, some pay more than others.  Some get more than others.  But everyone contributes according to their gifts.  Even the newborn baby contributes.  He is our entertainment.

– M. Ragazzo

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