On That GOP Health Care Bill, and Tax Breaks

First, my initial thoughts, as rendered on Twitter.

Now, let me talk a little bit more about the part where I say “rich people don’t miss their taxes,” since I think there are people who may be reasonably skeptical about this. Warning: I’m going to talk about my money. Then I’m going to talk about other people’s money.

To begin: I pay taxes on a quarterly basis, because I’m self-employed and the IRS, alas not entirely unreasonably, questions whether self-employed people will keep track of their money for a full year in order to pay off one big tax bill. So every quarter, I pay taxes. And in each of those quarterly tax payments, I pay in taxes roughly what I grossed (and definitely more than I netted) in income from the entire four-and-half years of my first job out of college, working for a newspaper. Add up my yearly tax bill, and it’s close to what I grossed my first ten years of being a professional writer — and there was never a time in there I didn’t do okay; it was a solid continuous progression up the middle-class income ladder.

So these days, whenever I see how much I pay in taxes annually, my first thought is always something like HOLY CRAP that’s a lot of money. I could totally use that! As someone who grew up poor and has worked his way steadily up the income ladder, it’s a freakin’ huge amount in terms of the raw dollars.

And then I pay my taxes and I discover that anything I would have used that ridiculous wad of tax money for, I still have enough in my net income for. I literally cannot think of a thing I want — or need — that my post-tax income can’t handle. Because as it happens, even with federal, state and local taxes, my tax burden is reasonable. I don’t pay taxes in 1980, when the highest marginal federal income tax rate was 70%; I pay taxes in 2017, where top federal tax bracket maxes out at just under 40%. With state and local taxes, I have to break a sweat to have a total top marginal tax rate of 50% — and my real world taxes indebtedness doesn’t come anywhere near half my income, because of how marginal tax rates work and because like lots of people in my position I have a very smart accountant who finds me lots of deductions.

So even with literally the full (pre-deduction) tax burden someone in Ohio can pay — we max out all the marginal rates — there is more than enough left over for pretty much anything that we want to do, individually, as a couple or as a family. We save a lot, invest a bunch, and thus take that money out of the short-term income pool we use for bills, household spending and, uh, “consumer activity,” and we’re still just fine, thanks. I suppose it’s possible that we could spend so much of our post-tax income that we’re left with little or nothing and thus would wish we had some of the money that we paid in taxes back into our hands, but speaking from experience, this takes effort, and some willful stupidity about your money. Yes, I’m looking at you, Nick Cage and Johnny Depp. But if you’re not the sort of person who spends $30,000 a month on wine, you’re probably going to be fine.

We do just fine. The other people I know who have similar or better incomes than we have also do just fine. The ones I know with substantially better incomes than we have are also doing just fine. No one at my income level or better actively misses the money they spend on taxes, because they’re still rich after they pay taxes.

Would I like to pay less in taxes? When I look at the raw number of dollars I send to the IRS, sure. When I think about the actual impact on my day-to-day life having that money would make, versus the actual and positive impact on the day-to-day life of millions of other people, when people like me pay our taxes? Nope. I have certain (in more than one sense of that word) opinions about how those taxes I pay in should be used, and whether they are being used effectively, and whether I’m getting value for what I pay, to be sure. Those are different issues, however.

Cratering health care for millions in the United States (and crippling Medicaid in the bargain) in order to give people like me a tax cut means that we are taking something from people who need it, often desperately, to give something to people who don’t need it and may not even notice it in any substantial way. In the House version of this legislation, you have to make more than $200k to get any tax benefit from it; people with incomes between $200k and $500k a year would get a tax break of $510 on average. $510 is not a lot to get in return for asking millions of other Americans to be potentially priced out of health coverage, have lifetime insurance caps reinstituted, be denied for pre-existing conditions, get sicker and die earlier. And the roughly 95% of Americans who don’t make $200,000 a year won’t even get that.

Rich people don’t need any more tax cuts. They’re doing just fine. They will continue to do just fine. And no, their tax burden isn’t onerous. Trust me, I know. I live that tax burden daily. It doesn’t hurt. What does hurt is knowing that people I know and care for will likely die sooner and sicker than they should just so someone like me gets back a few more dollars they won’t notice. Don’t come at me with “but the rich earned those dollars.” Dude, I earned my dollars, too. I earned them in a country that helped me get where I am in part through taxes. I earned them understanding that getting rich came with an obligation to the society I live in and benefit from, an obligation discharged, in part, by paying a perfectly reasonable amount of taxes.

The motto of the United States is not, in fact, “Fuck you, I got mine.” It was, and should have remained, “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. We’re all Americans. We all deserve the blessings this country can provide. This one is willing to pay his taxes for the benefit of the many.

The Big Idea: Curtis C. Chen

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie… well, if you’re Curtis C. Chen, maybe you think about setting a novel there. Here’s Chen now to explain Kangaroo Too’s lunar connection.

CURTIS C. CHEN:

It is very likely that I set Kangaroo Too on the moon because of The Fifth Element.

In that movie, there’s a throwaway line of dialogue when Korben Dallas’ mother telephones him and complains that he never visits her on the moon. I had totally forgotten this until I went to see a 20th anniversary screening this year (yes, we really are that old), but it must have been stewing in my subconscious all that time.

Because why wouldn’t you put a retirement community on the moon? Gravity there is only one-sixth of Earth’s, so elders with mobility issues will find it easier to get around. Every habitat needs to be pressurized and climate-controlled anyway, so it can be as tropical as residents want. The only downside is that your family will have even more excuses for not visiting. Q.E.D.

Using the moon as a setting also let me put characters in a wider variety of awkward situations. Most of the first novel took place in a single location—a cruise spaceship traveling from Earth to Mars—but each hemisphere of the moon is roughly as wide across as the entire continental United States. Add a futuristic high-speed subway connecting population centers, and a reckless secret agent can get into plenty of trouble all over the place.

One lunar feature I latched onto early in my research was a “crater of eternal darkness.” The moon is tidally locked to the Earth (i.e., one hemisphere always faces toward us), and there are places along the day/night terminator that either always or never see sunlight. If you want continuous free electricity to power a transportation network, put solar panels on mountaintops near the north pole; if you want to keep something hidden, bury it under the deepest crater at the south pole.

And, of course, I had to include visits to at least a couple of Apollo landing sites, which are preserved as historical museums in this future. I’m sure the same thing will happen in reality. As soon as people can affordably travel to other planets, there’s going to be a booming space tourism industry. Everybody wants to stand on the Lunar surface, see the Earth rise over the horizon, and cover that blue marble with their thumb.

But back to aging on the moon. NASA recently conducted a Twins Study in which they followed identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly for one year, while Scott lived aboard the International Space Station and Mark remained on Earth. The final report isn’t out yet, but researchers are already seeing unexpected results (e.g., telomere lengthening) which raise many interesting questions. It seems possible that humans could naturally live longer in low gravity environments.

Of course, the most important scientific question raised in Kangaroo Too is: could we actually keep chickens on the moon, and therefore have fresh eggs? The only way to know for sure is to establish a Lunar base and start breeding livestock up there. Make me a liar, Fish!

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Kangaroo Too: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

More Fireflies

I’m getting a smidgen better at taking pictures of these little glowy dudes. The secret, which is not a secret at all, is long exposures on steady platforms, and low ISO settings so you don’t blow out the picture. This one, which is actually a detail of a larger photo, is a 20 second exposure at ISO 250 at late dusk (close to 10 pm here because it was literally the night before the solstice), so the sky was darker than it is here. I used the birdbath in the front yard as a platform.

I was focused on the fireflies but as you can see a little here, and rather better in the photo linked above, I caught some stars in there too, as well as twenty seconds of their movement across the sky, which was apparently just long enough to catch some streaking. I think this is pretty cool.

I’ll probably post one or two more firefly photos before the season is done. I think they’re pretty.