Benjamin Franklin was just one of a few notables associated with the well-known saying, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” It was his way to describe the essence of predictability. In many ways this statement still serves as the epitome of inevitability, the supposition of a closing statement. The evidence that no more needs to be said. Facts indeed are FACTS.
The notion caused me to wonder out loud about the relationship between death and taxes. The statement, or some form of it, has been around as early as the 1600’s so what makes it so perpetual? Especially today, as many feel reasons to challenge, or certainly reconsider many things once deemed appropriate in the mainstream.
Recent peeks behind the curtain of America’s practice of public policing, equitable healthcare, reasonable access to equal justice, education and economic opportunity, exposed a poignant and disturbing reality of two Americas: one for the rich and privileged and another for a striving middle or underserved community, looking for fair opportunity to live the American dream.
The statistics have been available and discussed in plain view for a long while. But in recent months, they have been animated, in real time, too hard for even the most disengaged to ignore. Ever-so-often, conditions arise that can cause even the most ardent of colloquial assumptions like death and taxes to be questioned. To be looked at with a slightly different focus.
President Lincoln’s declaration during his famous “Gettysburg Address” proclaimed “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Was that a fact, or simply the desire for a more perfect union? How does that statement rate today? Is “government for the people” any better today than it was back then? Has the inevitability of death and taxes changed in any significant matter as it relates to this view of America’s democracy?
One consistent link between death and taxes is deadlines. July 15th was the deadline that extended the filing and payment of IRS Taxes. No doubt, this is just another obligation we bake into the recipe for being part of the great American experiment. I have no qualms with contributing an appropriate share to the great democracy we know as the United States of American, but we must be smarter about how we go about it!
Taxes represent an accounting deadline for your contributions to society. That said, directing how much you pay or how your hard-earned income can better benefit you and the people you care deeply about is a horse of a different color (pun intended).
Death on the other hand, is more permanent than taxes for sure, but symbolically, denotes a deadline when all manner of activity is due. I submit that perhaps one could interpret a more spiritual kind of personal accounting of a “deadline” in pursuit of living an abundant life, recognizing that we ultimately will be judged by how well we account for our blessings.
As we continue to adjust to a wholistic observation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and other dramatic social and economic ills, I give pause to consider how our actions can be better channeled to test the assumption of death and taxes.
Are we paying too much and dying too soon? Have we become complacent with the notion that death and taxes are inevitable despite the evidence that with proper planning, we can live longer, build stronger communities and better protect ourselves from the whims of a challenged and often duplicitous society?
Are we a good steward of our resources? If so, have we done enough? How do we know? Are we dependent on government or others to secure the quality of our long-term healthcare and living standards? Are we directing our taxes to fund the institutions that are better positioned to defend our individual rights for equal justice, access to federal and local business opportunities, good education and the security of our families? If not, how do we make that happen?
I know that’s a lot of questions. If you can’t see how to move forward, talk to someone you trust. As the Honorable Judge Learned Hand, famously stated “[a]nyone 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.” If you’re not happy with the amount of taxes you’re paying, “do something”. There is help for whatever you need at this pivotal time in our history in America. I strongly believe that if we practice the principles to harvest in good times, store our gains and plant seeds in fertile ground in preparation for what is to come, the perfect union that President Lincoln hoped for is still very possible.
Eric D. Bailey