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Can one of you fiscal sooper geniuses explain something to me, please?

I keep reading that 40% of Americans don’t pay any income taxes at all.

Twenty six years ago, before I was a corporate little Eichmann, I worked part time, minimum-wage-type jobs while I tried to establish myself as a freelance illustrator. My total income, including illustration work, was under $8,000 each of those years (yeah, wow, did I suck, or what?).

I got a little money back at tax time, but certainly not everything that had been withheld. In other words, I paid income taxes. Teeny, tiny taxes in proportion to my teeny, tiny income, but it still hurt.

So, ummm…what gives? Does almost half the population really not pay taxes at all now? Or are they counting benefits against taxes and calling it a wash? Or has everything changed since I were a lass?

Money make weasel doesn’t understand good.


Comment from Vox
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:00 pm

Actually, you may be confusing the amount that was withheld for unemployment taxes, social security & medicare with federal & state income tax.

With an income that low, you should have gotten all of the income taxes back, but not the others.

Comment from apotheosis
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:01 pm


At least #5 is.

| Y |

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:17 pm

Thanks, Vox. That would explain it.

In which case — speaking as a former forty-percenter — my perception was that I paid as many taxes as anyone. In fact, because I made so little, the amount withheld on me hurt like a bastard.

In other words, either I am uniquely and transcendently stupid, or poor people are as wadded up about taxes as everybody else because they don’t know they don’t pay them. Because they do pay them, they’re just different taxes.

Yes, Apotheosis. I have heard of this practice. It is apparently true that Brits put weasels down their pants. Why the hell do you think I’d move there?

Comment from apotheosis
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:26 pm

Now I can imagine fake conversations in totally phony accents, like “OI, ‘ees not ‘appy to see yer, ‘ees got a stoat in his knickers!” and “I say, old boy, that’s a simply smashing ermine but it’s after labor day, don’t you know, quite a faux pas wot wot? *sips tea*”

I mean…I could do that before, it’s just that I didn’t have any documented scientific support for it.

Comment from apotheosis
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:31 pm

Also, I think Earned Income Credit has something to do with the quoted percentage.

Also, the previous subject lends itself to the name “Baron Wilhelm von Knickerstoat,” which seems like one of those names that deserves exist even if it doesn’t.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:36 pm

Pantyweasels. Britchesferrets. Stoatenhosen.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:38 pm

…and don’t forget Badgerbuggers, Weaz!

Comment from apotheosis
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:38 pm


Comment from apotheosis
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:40 pm



Comment from Michael
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:41 pm

Distribution of federal income tax burden can be seen here.” The data goes back to 1980, when you, Weasel, were still in diapers. 🙂

Currently, the bottom 50% of wage earners pay about 3% of the federal income tax. Of course, this data refers to federal income taxes only, ignores a plethora of other taxes, many of which are regressive (e.g., sales taxes, property taxes). My impression is that the consensus seems to be that if the direct and indirect effect of all taxes are figured in, the overall tax burden falls relatively evenly across income classes, i.e., it is at most only mildly progressive. Which is why some argue that flat tax proponents are misguided. Although the system is ridiculously complex, we more or less have a flat tax rate today.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:49 pm

If I was in diapers, Michael, it’s only because I was too lazy to get off the couch for a pee.

That sounds about right to me. I can remember being far more upset about taxes then because, as I said, every damn penny I lost hurt me. I didn’t think about the difference between the kinds of taxes — and sales taxes hit everyone equally.

I certainly take the point that skinning the rich is an especially bad thing, but I think that “40% pay nothing” meme is the right’s version of class warfare and is equally counterproductive. Every person in the country pays taxes and smarts over them, and we’d be wiser to play to that solidarity.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:50 pm

And don’t think I missed that appalling remark, apotheosis. I’d ban you for it, but I don’t know how…

Comment from apotheosis
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:54 pm

guess i otter quit while i’m ahead.

Comment from Michael
Time: October 20, 2008, 5:59 pm

and sales taxes hit everyone equally.

Actually, in general sales taxes hit lower income people harder than the rich, because the poor spend a greater percentage of their income on purchasing taxable goods. Same for real estate taxes, because lower income people spend a greater percentage of their income on housing.

You could go on and on with examples of taxes that are regressive — everything from “fees” like fishing licenses to tariffs on imported goods (which are just another sales tax).

Comment from Allen
Time: October 20, 2008, 6:03 pm

No one pays taxes, they merely perform their patriotic duty by sending in their excess cash to help the government help people.

Hey, did you hear Joe’s latest? If Obama is elected an international crisis will erupt, to test his mettle. Joe has gone from goofy to full bore wacko. Go Joe!

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 20, 2008, 6:08 pm

I’ve lived in poor(ish) neighborhoods most of my life. Latterly by choice (man, I hate doing yard work). Lots of things hit the poor harder.

Supermarkets are more expensive (for the very good reason that shoplifting is higher in bad neighborhoods). Maintaining crappy vehicles is expensive. No frequent flyer miles.

It sucks to be poor in all kinds of ways. And there are things about being poor that make it damned hard to move up. We recognize these issues badly on the right.

While on the left, they just harp on about taking stuff away from rich people. It has an emotional resonance, but it never lifted a single poor person out of poverty.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: October 20, 2008, 8:15 pm

When you’re poor, it takes a full days work just to tread water and keep your place so-to-speak. To get out, i.e. better yourself, it takes a significant part of another days effort each day to achieve it. That’s assuming you have the intelligence, determination, and marketable skills to do so.

Getting out of poverty is a bitch. But receiving freebies (handouts) doesn’t get you there – it just allows you to visit temporarily and become bitter and disenchanted.

Comment from Mrs. Peel
Time: October 20, 2008, 9:25 pm

Yeah, Weas, when we lived in a bad area when I was little, we actually drove about 10-20 miles away to buy groceries because they were so damn expensive in our neighborhood. (Obviously, this was back when gas was still like 79 cents/gallon.) (The stores in our area were also dangerous.)

Lebensraum was actually the main issue that split me and the boy. He didn’t want to move out of the city. The problem with living in the city is that even the $300,000 townhomes are a block or two away from the crack houses. (Hell, even the $500,000 places aren’t that far from crack houses. You have to go over a million to get into a nice area.) So yeah, your place BETTER be nice on the inside, ’cause you sure as hell can’t spend much time outside. It’s more Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood than Mr. Rogers’s. And you run into the grocery store problem – it isn’t safe to go to the grocery stores in the area.

Where I am, I have a 1900 square foot house (that cost a hell of a lot less than $300k) with a gorgeous big back yard and a covered, screened-in patio (on the east side) and a three-car garage plus a workroom, on a quiet family street, where I don’t need to carry a gun to walk my dog, and where I can go to the grocery store at midnight without fear.

I spent 21 years living somewhere where I couldn’t go for a walk (for one thing, there were 25 known child sex offenders within 1 mile of my house) or to the local grocery store, and I will NEVER live like that EVER again.

The boy didn’t think my concerns were valid.

Comment from armybrat
Time: October 20, 2008, 9:29 pm

At the same time you were eeking out that living, my hubby was a rookie police officer in a mid-western city of more than 300,000 people. He made $10,000. We were so poor that we lived in a mobile home without air conditioning and ate lots of beans and rice. And we paid taxes. We have received exactly 3 refunds in the 24.5 years we’ve been married. And none of those came in the first 10 years of our marriage. And this year, the govt has confiscated from us in just this one year what it took them 10 years to take previously.
/I’m a real joy to be around when I’m working on my income redistribution tax forms

Comment from memomachine
Time: October 21, 2008, 12:03 am


“Also, I think Earned Income Credit has something to do with the quoted percentage.”



As an example (using the EITC Assistant):

Family of four
Married filing jointly
2 children
$20,000 gross combined income
$0 income for everything else
0 deductions
No interest or investment income
No capital gains or dividends

EIC for 2007 on $20,000 gross income?


And it automatically goes up each year.

But for a single person with $20,000 in gross income and no kids you’re not eligible. Your income has to be below $12,590 (as of 2007) to be at all eligible.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 21, 2008, 7:18 am

EITC was after my time.

Oh, I tell you something else that used to wad me up something fierce. After I got the corporate gig and I damn well was paying income taxes, I wanted to buy a house. And — Weasel’s luck — I was trying to buy in the most awful real estate spike this area has ever seen (that’s right, I bought at the very top of the biggest peak ever in Rhode Island, and I sold at the bottom of the worst bellyflop since Shirley Temple wore tap shoes. Because god hates me, that’s why).

That’s back when you had to come up with a 20% down payment. And every time I saved $1,000, house prices would go up by $5,000.

And guess what? Everybody who already owned a house got to deduct mortgage interest. So the government subsidized owners at the expense of renters.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: October 21, 2008, 7:36 am

Weasel (or Badger, I guess), aren’t the British taxes even more onerous?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 21, 2008, 7:48 am

It’s my impression, McGoo. Uncle B swears that when financial types add up all the peripheral taxes, it comes out about the same. But I look at the egregious taxes on things like gasoline and booze and wonder how that can be so.

Because I’m not a financial type, I tend not to make a mental distinction between, say, income taxes, building permits, parking tickets: mentally, I lump together all money that government sucks out of the pockets of citizens and think of that as taxes. And, fundamentally, I think I’m right to do that.

Which is why I think the right makes a bad mistake thinking poor people don’t hate big government because there’s one particular tax they don’t pay. They get hit as hard or harder then anyone else — proportionately much harder, since they have so little to begin with.

Okay, maybe people who have given up and live off the government entirely see government as a good thing. But for anyone trying to pull his or herself out of that hole alone, government is the biggest unfriend they have. We’re terribly wrong to cede those people to the Democrats — the kind of people who look up to Joe the Plumber as a success story.

Comment from apotheosis
Time: October 21, 2008, 9:05 am

I think their taxes are calculated in thruppence and ha’pennies, so it just looks like more.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: October 21, 2008, 9:35 am

I’ve said it before: I like Escudos, Apotheosis. 🙂 The word sounds like the end product of some vulgar biological process. All taxes should be paid in escudos until someone invents the “screwedpence”.

The difference between the “live off of guv” folks and the “work your way out of poverty” folks is (IMHO) primarily a matter of breeding. You can’t beg, borrow, or steal that. You can’t pick your parents, relatives, or (when young) your neighbors.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 21, 2008, 9:44 am

Groats. I like groats, which are fourpence. Uncle B bought me a groat. A Charles II silver groat, to be exact. I carry it in my wallet with my Julian the Apostate penny and my raccoon baculum and other assorted odds and ends.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: October 21, 2008, 9:46 am

Yes! I love groats, too! Can I go to the bank and order a groat? I already have an escudo. *blushes in faux embarrassment*

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 21, 2008, 9:52 am

Sadly, no. When they decimalized the currency, they lost all the lovely crowns and half crowns and thruppenny bits and…let’s see…it went:

Farthing: ¼ d
Ha’pence: ½ d
Penny: 1d (duh)
Tuppence: 2d
Thruppence: 3d
Groat: 4d
Sixpence: 6d
Shilling: 12d
Florin: 24d
Half crown: 30d
Crown: 100d
Sovereign: 240d (£1)
Guinea: 240d (£1) in gold

A pound was so-called because it was an actual pound, by weight, of whatever metal the coin was.

Comment from apotheosis
Time: October 21, 2008, 10:59 am

There really is a denomination called “groat?” They named their currency after grains?

My name’s Earl Scheib and I’ll paint that car for thirty-nine hominy, ninety-five grits.

Comment from apotheosis
Time: October 21, 2008, 11:01 am

Also, everyone knows that Florin is where Buttercup and Westley hooked up.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 21, 2008, 11:13 am

Was. Since decimalization in 1971, all the lovely old coins went away.

Well, to be fair, I think the groat disappeared a long time ago. But the loss of the pretty little farthing (it was a tiny copper coin with a wren on it) was a heartbreak.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: October 21, 2008, 11:16 am

Hominy! LOL!

I used to fill out online registration forms with the name “Harry Hominygrits” or “Glanston P. Phlatulentz” just for fun.

Comment from jwpaine
Time: October 21, 2008, 1:00 pm

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Comment from jwpaine
Time: October 21, 2008, 1:07 pm

apotheosis: My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

Comment from apotheosis
Time: October 21, 2008, 2:39 pm

Just say it.

Groat. GROAT.

It sounds like…evil. Like the fell cry of something scaly, something hideous, crawling around in a bayou after escaping from the hackneyed cliche wing of the Dean Koontz Institute for Advancement of Unimaginative Horror Novels.


Comment from Vox
Time: October 21, 2008, 11:13 pm

I realize you have moved on, but The Wall Street Journal seems to be reading your blog – they are answering the same question.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 22, 2008, 5:19 am

Heh. I came to the same conclusion as the Wall Street Journal, Vox. Gosh, that makes me feel a little less like a retard.

Have you seen that “how big is your refund under Obama?” banner that has been running on Drudge? I clicked it the other day and played with the numbers.

That thing Obama is proposing isn’t a tax cut. It’s got nothing to do with taxes or any other real-world monetary relationship. It’s kind of like a free-floating version of those stupid stimulus dealies: he’s just going to cut 95% of us a check. Here, have some walking-around money, prole.

He’s just calling it a tax cut because, I guess, those two little words focus group real well.

Comment from blake
Time: October 23, 2008, 5:02 am

Hey, my tax plan is simple and completely inconceivable in its simplicity:

a) The gov’t can only tax individuals directly.
b) Every individual pays the same amount.

I elaborate here:


One of socialism/communism’s great victories is in how preposterous this notion sounds to modern ears.

And, oh, do I remember my first “real” job. I told them not to withhold any taxes–I was a student! Students don’t pay taxes!! (That was one of those University legends. In any event, I made a whopping $4K that year so…)

But then my paycheck was missing 10%! WTF? Social security, unemployment (which I’ve =never= been able to collect) and Medi-whatever. I was outraged.

Somehow, those weren’t taxes, but they hurt just like ’em.

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