Quit Being a Dick, Cowboy Up and Pay Your Taxes

We’re one of those small businesses that congress claims to care so much about. We’re also, many years, a couple that makes over whatever the limit is for raising taxes. Whenever we see a tax credit, whether it’s for child care, or alternative minimum tax or whatever, we just ignore it because we know we don’t qualify. Even though The Julia Group is 100% Hispanic female owned, we don’t qualify for Section 8(a) funding as a disadvantaged business because our household net worth is too high.

We pay A LOT of taxes. Corporate taxes. State taxes. Federal taxes. I even pay taxes to the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation, because we do business there.

So, I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to scream that I shouldn’t pay taxes and whine that I can’t create jobs because of taxes.

In North Dakota, the guys on the rodeo would tell each other to “Cowboy up”. I think that means quit being a whiner and do what is expected of you.

My former partner would tell his sons, “Be a man”. I think he meant the same thing.

I’ll just say, all of you people who are making over $200,000 a year, some of you making over $200,000,000 a year should just quit lying, quit being a dick and pay your taxes.
Here are some of the reasons I don’t complain about paying taxes:

1. My husband and I have six degrees between us. Five of those were from state institutions very heavily subsidized by taxes. Without that education, we wouldn’t be making this money.

2. I pay taxes to the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation because I do business there. The law enforcement, sanitation, roads department and every other service I use when I am there have to be paid for by someone. Why shouldn’t I pay part of it? My income is many times the average resident on the reservation, why should they all pay and not me?

3. The resident rocket scientist works on government contracts. There aren’t a lot of rocket scientist wanted ads in the LA Times. Be glad he does, too. He’s brilliant.

4. I do a lot of government work. This year, it’s probably 50% of our business. My salary and corporate profits come in part from those taxes.

5. I live in a beautiful place, by the beach, in a safe neighborhood. Someone has to pay for the lifeguards, police, fire department, sanitation, libraries.

6. I use a lot of government resources. When doing research, I’m continually accessing data collected by the Census Bureau, the Department of Education or the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation. The research they fund enables me to make money.


I know that all of these factors are true for me and I find it impossible they aren’t much more true for someone making $200 million a year.

So quit lying about how government is the problem, quit being a dick, cowboy up and pay your taxes.


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  1. Was sent here from Twitter. Excellent post & totally agree. So great to here people say this! If only more people thought this way. Huge respect to you,

  2. I have no problem with taxes, per se. However, I do get upset when most of the money I pay in tax is spent on things that have nothing to do with governing.

    As an example: the city I live in holds several street festivals and parades each year. I’m fine with these, and I’m fine knowing that some of my money is being spent on those.

    However, if the city then claimed that it didn’t have enough money to hire police officers, get a new fire truck, fix potholes, clear snow in the winter, or even just to give council members a raise, then I would push for cutting some of those festivals before raising taxes.

    When Orange County declared bankruptcy years ago, they managed to simply re-prioritize spending, and emerged from bankruptcy without needing to raise taxes. When the federal government triples spending in a few years, it’s hard to believe that their financial trouble is solely caused by low taxes.

    Based on your description of your income taxes, it sounds like you’re in the group that President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senator Reid and others have declared the “super rich.” And although you don’t qualify for most deductions or exemptions, and although people in your income bracket pay a disproportionate share of federal taxes, you’re in the group that Obama, Biden, Reid and others claim “don’t pay their fair share” and need to pay higher taxes. You’re welcome to do so ( http://www.irs.gov/instructions/i1120c/ar01.html#d0e94 ), and I’ll willingly join you if I’m convinced the money will go toward governing and not, say, federal studies of party behavior ( http://projectreporter.nih.gov/pr_Prj_info_desc_dtls.cfm?aid=7684573&icde=8872191&print=yes ).

  3. Actually, I live in Santa Monica and do business in North Dakota. As far as whether I am paying my fair share – well, the bill from the Spirit Lake tax department took me by surprise but when I thought about it, they were right. I should pay some small amount of taxes to support the services I benefit from. If I can pay a small fraction more without undue hardship then why can’t people like the Koch brothers who have a great many times more money than me.

    We always hear how these people who make the multi-million dollar bonuses deserve that because they’re so smart. Well, if I can still stay in business while paying state, federal and tribal taxes, why can’t Amazon?

    As far as Max’s comment, yes, there will be waste in government, just like in business and in non-profits. No organization is ever perfect but pointing at something like a study of party behavior as an excuse not to pay taxes is changing the subject. So, let me change the subject.

    I forgot to mention that when my husband died, I received social security for all three of my children that enabled me to pay for private schools, save up some money to send them to college and pay for training expenses for our youngest daughter to prepare for the Olympics. It’s not a need-based program. If you die, your children get the benefits, and I got the maximum possible because my husband had worked for many years and made a good salary. So people like me get MORE of the benefits from the government.

    Two of my children and my niece took classes at the local community college. One of my daughter also got a degree from a state university. Both of my daughters (including the one who attended a private university) got subsidized loans. When I needed an extra $50,000 to pay for the tuition at the private university, I got a subsidized loan.

    People like me (and, I think, you) are more likely to have children attend college.

  4. Sorry, it’s not my problem that you don’t care what happens to your money and you don’t speak for me. I abide by the law and pay what I’m asked to pay, but I know that the opportunity cost of taxes is large and much of the money I send in will not be used for much good. To address your six points:

    1. You would have more better education if people had more money to start and support great universities. More importantly, more people would be better educated overall, as opposed to the current system where only those who have money, great parents or diligently learn to navigate bureaucracies get a real education.

    2. Sure, why not help the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation? I don’t know how well run they are, but in another world you’d probably use your well-honed business skills to build a children’s library or something. Instead, you have to be satisfied with paying their bureaucracy to theoretically use your money. You might feel good but it has nothing to do with whether you actually do much good compared to what you might do.

    3. Space research is an excellent use of federal tax revenues, and a very, very small percentage of it. That said, NASA, Lockheed etc. are not well run compared to all the smaller, private ventures and your husband would probably advance knowledge faster at one of those companies. Taxes mean that rich people who want to fund space research and *almost* can, can’t! It puts them over the edge.

    4. Same thing. Unless you specialize in helping inefficient bureaucracies limp along, your skills would be better used by people spending their own money. You would help a lot more people and probably make more money, too.

    5. I don’t really have a problem with property taxes. Just remember that most of your taxes don’t pay for anything you use on a daily basis.

    6. Again, these programs are very tiny, and again, they are still rather inefficient. However, thanks to taxes and the de facto government monopoly on this kind of data collection, individuals/companies are not easily able to compete with better data offerings. We’re missing out on a lot more useful data.

    So, I like the style of this post but I encourage you to not be satisfied with paying a lot of money for not much, and to remember that because of taxes, you are a lucky person to live so well, as they make it difficult to ‘share the wealth.’

  5. yeah, everything you named is covered by local taxes. people don’t mind local taxes because local taxes improve the local situation. it’s federal taxes that suck.

  6. If you want to pay more than your fair share, you’re more than welcome to do so, just as OP said (http://www.irs.gov/instructions/i1120c/ar01.html#d0e94). In the mean time, insisting that someone else follow your preference, no matter their income level, is ridiculous and to some degree immoral. To say that you have no problem with someone using force to take money from me that I’ve earned and provide no substantial value for that theft tells me a lot about you as a person: either you’ve never really thought about and you’re just spouting Democrat party dogma or you have no conscience.

    Sleep well, thief.

  7. While it’s true that if you use those service, so does someone making $200 million, does it follow that they should pay proportionally more? I’m mostly in agreement with your position, but don’t think that’s the strongest argument I’ve heard. You might be $30k worth of value from all the govt services, but few people would really get, say, $22million worth of value from those same services. There’s more compelling arguments to be made I think.

  8. So because you pay taxes and benefit so much from the services the government offers, I’m now bound to as well, irrespective of how much I benefit?

    I ride a bike nearly everywhere (meaning I make little to no wear and tear on the roads) and I didn’t get any subsidized school loans.

    I don’t work for the government, get contracts from the government, or sell things to the government. I don’t use Census Bureau data, I don’t get papers or research from the NSF, or the NIH or DoE.

    I don’t live in a beautiful place, it’s not by the beach, the roads are crap, there are no lifeguards, and I get hassled by the cops for riding my bike on THEIR roads. I make enough money to afford a house, but not enough to buy a house in a ritzy neighborhood where the police are nice to the residents.

    I am an adult, I work 60+ hours a week and I pay all those taxes you’re talking about. Sales tax and property tax and income tax and social security (though I’ll never see a dime of that), and everything else.

    You might well benefit enormously from the spending the government does, but that doesn’t mean everyone else does too. Please don’t tell me that I need to value the government the way you do. Just because you make quite a handsome living that way doesn’t mean everyone can.

    If we all worked for the government and we were all paid by the government it’d be quite similar to a system they had in the USSR. That country failed not because they didn’t have the technology or will to succeed, but because of economics.

  9. > pointing at something like a study of party behavior as an excuse not to pay taxes …

    No, the study is an argument not to *raise* taxes. I pay all taxes as required by current law, and I try not to pay any more (Judge Learned Hand: “Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands”).

    In a democracy, we regularly discuss what the law should be, and compare it to what the law is. I believe everybody should follow what the law is. One statement that’s popular right now is that “everybody should pay their fair share of taxes.” Until we have a clear definition of what is a “fair share,” it’s a nonsense statement. I can say that under current tax law, you and other “super rich” people (President Obama’s term, not mine) already pay a disproportionate share. Current proposals are to make that share even more disproportionate, by lumping you in with the likes of the Koch brothers and Warren Buffet.

    I don’t really know enough to say whether we can solve our current problems by budget cuts alone. I do believe it’s prudent to start with cuts before asking people to pony up more. President Obama spent the last few years claiming that “waste, fraud and abuse” of Medicare was rampant, and that cutting that would help fund Health Care Reform. Unfortunately, those savings haven’t yet materialized.

    More seriously, in his autobiography, Lee Iaccoca claims that he can cut spending in any organization by 5% without anybody noticing. We may have already plucked some of the low hanging fruit, but the existence of that study implies that there is still a little more. I’ll be more open to higher taxes if I have confidence that there has been a serious effort to audit current expenses and cut silly spending.

    Please don’t get me wrong. As a programmer, I’m very happy with NIST’s creative interpretation of the Constitutional authorization to “fix the standard of weights and measures” that allows them to create DES, AES, the family of SHA hash functions, publish reference works on statistics, etc. I’m happy with the Census Bureau’s creative interpretation of Constitutional passages that refer to an “enumeration” that allows the Census Bureau to collect so much other information. I even appreciate the efforts by the NSA to make operating systems more secure, the data and source code available from NASA, the various national labs and other government projects, even though I can’t find obvious Constitutional authority for them. I simply prefer limiting the silly spending before I send larger checks to Washington.

  10. Somehow a paragraph got dropped from my response. I will note that in this book “The Age of Turbulence” Greenspan mentioned that revenues fell by more than projected when the Bush Tax cuts took effect. It may be that the projections were simply wrong, but it may also be that the tax cuts somehow encouraged people to commit more tax fraud than they had in the past. I get the impression that Greenspan believes that second possibility (it’s also possible that the tax cuts encouraged people to take a second look at their tax returns and file for deductions and credits that they had overlooked in previous years).

    It’s well known that there is some level of tax fraud. Unfortunately, the best way to find tax cheats seems to be to nominate them to government posts (Geitner and Daschle) or have them ask a Presidential candidate a question (Joe the Plumber). I would wholeheartedly support increased tax enforcement — i.e., efforts to root out tax fraud. It may be naivete on my part, but I don’t believe that there’s enough tax fraud to make a dent in our current financial problems. But it would be prudent to make sure people are paying their current legal obligations before we increase those obligations.

  11. I think we agree that cutting spending that is stupid and paying taxes are not mutually exclusive.

    I’m sure there are some useless expenses in every organization. I’m not convinced there are more in government, but that’s certainly not a dispute with cutting what is unnecessary. The problem, and this is a different topic, is knowing what to cut. For example, funding for some “silly” research project also provides employment and training in statistics, programming and other areas for doctoral students and new post-docs. Getting those individuals trained may pay off big in innovations even if the particular project wasn’t that useful. I think I got my initial training as an engineer under a situation much like that.

    As far as waste, fraud and abuse of Medicare, I do recall an article in the LA Times recently where a dozen or so people were arrested, so I think some efforts are being made to crack down there. Not enough, not fast enough, but that would take government money to do the investigations.

  12. I think you are correct that we’re in general agreement. I support a “truth in advertising” approach to most things. I supported letting the Bush Tax Cuts expire on the reasoning that if we want to spend as much as we’re spending, we ought to pay for it.

    Right now, I think it’s reasonable to see if we really want to spend all the money we’re spending. But if the answer to that question is “yes,” then we need to be willing to follow through with higher taxes.

  13. the question is if the national debt problem can be fixed by paying higher tax at all. if not, then it’s nothing about “be a man” as individual, but where the hell the money was spent and going to by govt.
    stop financing wars, problem solved!

  14. @Max: As I understand it, something like 80% of US federal spending is on defense, Medicare, and Social Security. So if you’re serious about reducing federal spending you have to cut one of those three. Are you prepared to consider a large, let’s say 50%, cut to the defense budget?

  15. Max, the largest part of the increase in government spending in the last ten years has been two wars, which were entered without any provision made in the budget for increased spending. How about we unconditionally surrender both of those and pull the troops out? That’s the best way I can think of to cut a LOT of government spending all at once, without making the poor pay for it.

    We could even spend some of the savings building an even BIGGER wall between the US and our nearest neighbors and closest allies, maybe with alligators and sharp spikes all over it this time. Maybe that’s not as silly to you as HIV research (which is what that “party behavior” study you pilloried actually was about).

  16. “I do a lot of government work. This year, it’s probably 50% of our business.”

    Because half of your business is with the government you have a vested interest in people paying more taxes. You base your argument on a moral point of view but your self interest is apparent.

  17. I get $800 a month SSD. No other disability insurance, and I sell salvaged scrap metal for gas money. It’s sqeak-by, especially since I do what I can to help my mother (who gets 700 a month SSR). I support spending cuts over tax cuts, at least for the eighty or ninety percent of us that fall below the 150K mark. I’d rather not see my check cut, especially since it’s supposedly not welfare but insurance, but no one else I know gets a COLA in their retirement/disability packages either. I’d just cowboy up and continue to do what’s necessary to meet the monthly obligations. I’d also probably start going to a food bank instead of the grocery stores. I already grow what vegetables I can, and the discount stores are my friend.I learned decadse ago how to cook from scratch, and can put together a decent meal from what’s on hand without a recipe. What saddens me is I can get my meds for about $2.25 a month, thanks to Medicare and Medicaid, but my hardworking friend can’t afford his meds because he has neither health insurance nor Rx subsidy. The medicine he’d benefit from most is $70 a month- not happening on his fast-food restaurant income! I’d be quite content with a higher co-pay if it meant guys like him could get any co-pay at all. (yeah, I live frugally. It was how I was raised, and The Tightwad Gazette is my bible!)

  18. Max, one thing to realize is that “the rich pay the largest share of taxes” argument, while true, is a dodge used to get the middle class to vote for policies that benefit the super-rich.

    The super-rich do pay a larger total *amount* of taxes than the folks with lower incomes, but their tax *rates* are generally lower. Their income is mostly derived from their investments; those tax rates are lower than the ones on wages.

    To me, that seems unfairly slanted towards the wealthy. Raising taxes on above-average wage earners – which includes myself – is about addressing an injustice.

    I wouldn’t advocate raising taxes on the middle class. I don’t think I should get more benefit from my government and pay less for them. It’s about the percentages, not the number of dollars.

  19. The only way to increase enforcement is to simplify the tax code quite literally down to a flat tax where your entire tax return could theoretically be filed on a postcard. Set the rates low enough and eliminate all deductions.

  20. Hey. Max and AnnMaria, I just wanted to say that it’s extraordinary and deeply uplifting to read a conversation between two people who (superficially appear to) have contrasting political positions that is neither acerbic nor nonconstructive. That fact that those opposed to tax hikes (e.g. conservatives) and those in favor (e.g. liberals) fundamentally agree about goals is an important point too often forgotten. I wonder if our national debt talks might be going better if Rep. Boehner could remember that.

    And incidentally, Max, as the staunchest of liberals, born and bred, and I can’t help but say that I think it’s likely that Obama’s massive suggested spending cuts weren’t just frivolities. His proposed deficit reduction package would have been more effective (in terms of projected numbers) than any other proposed so far and would have included massive spending cuts, pruning the sorts of things you were talking about. The reason no one can seem to agree on anything is that the craziest of the Republicans (Eric Cantor) are unwilling to compromise even to the degree that most four year olds are. But anyway. Thanks for your well-informed (better than I, to be sure) and well thought out comments on such a pressing issue.

  21. I would like to point out that most of the tax “problem” we are having are, as Max has acknowledged, due to the Bush tax cuts. When taxes were reduced, affecting revenues by cutting them 25%, was the time to question and demand spending to be cut by a like amount, since the Bush tax cuts are responsible for a large chunk of the debt we have today. Now, the money has already been spent and we are suffering from the deficits they have caused. When those of us protested the tax cuts during the Bush years and pointed out the huge deficits they would cause, we were told #1, “deficits don’t matter” and #2, the tax cuts would automatically expire. Both statements have proved to be highly inaccurate. No one ever dreamed a large faction of our governing body would claim allowing those cuts to expire would be so derisively fought and termed as “raising taxes” as opposed to the truth of the matter, “trying to catch back up with our bills” after allowing the wealthy to skip out on their obligations. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t bother me at all if all of the Bush tax cuts expired and we, once again, had a sane revenue stream that would have the capability of addressing not only our bills come due on what has already been spent, but, the ability to re-invest in this country, much like my grandparents did.

    I believe as AnnMaria, those that consume more should pay more. I am continually amazed at how many people do not hold this view. Those that benefit more unarguably consume more. The faction that wants to “keep taxes low” is, in a very real way, hurting the long term benefits of those who consume more. I would very much like to see this country go back to healthy taxing of corporations and the wealthy. It is immoral and wrong the wealthy are free loading off the citizens of this country.

  22. “Both of my daughters (including the one who attended a private university) got subsidized loans. When I needed an extra $50,000 to pay for the tuition at the private university, I got a subsidized loan.”

    yet for some reason, the only subsidized loans an average middle-class white kid (my son) is given amounts to less than 24% of college costs, meaning that he’ll come out of school with an enormous debt to private lenders (and a degree in education; an important but under-compensated field if ever there was one).

  23. That’s about the same with us, a little more than 25%. The $50,000 was for all four years. We paid the rest the old-fashioned way – we worked, made money and paid the bills.

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