Friday night at the private opening of Maduro Cigar Lounge (http://www.facebook.com/MaduroLounge) I had a very enjoyable talk with two well-respected and well-known gentlemen of Arkansas – they were also father and son. One of the topics we talked about was the lottery in AR. During the conversation the phrase of it being a “tax on the poor” was used. This blog-post isn’t about my feelings on the lottery – I’m absolutely ok with it; but instead this post is how I have a bit of a problem with the phrase “the lottery is a tax on the poor”.
Again, you can agree or disagree with what I am about to say – obviously everybody is entitled to their opinion…but I hope that we can be people who at the very least can understand each other’s perspective. Understanding ≠ agreement.
Now, my friend used the phrase, “tax on the poor”, but by no means is it only him who uses this phrase, I have heard it used countless times. When people choose to use the phrase, “tax on the poor” they are trying to convey the point that the lottery preys on the poor and gets them to buy the lottery tickets when they have a hard enough time just rubbing two nickels together. I can understand completely what they mean when they say this, but I think it’s a stretch to phrase it like this. Actually, check that, I think it’s a complete bastardization of the word “tax” and manipulation of words chosen solely to prey on our heart-strings.
Tax in its rudimentary form has been around for centuries – probably since the beginning of time when people were exchanging something of value for something else. I’m not an expert on taxes – in fact I hate taxes. I’ve been working on my taxes this weekend and I want less taxes. A friend of mine said that if we want tax reform we would have everybody write a check each month for their taxes instead of having them automatically deducted out of their paycheck – it’s a big eye opener when you pay your tax that way…and that’s a rabbit-trail I might chase in another post but for now it’s not the main point.
The word tax, obviously has a couple definitions. One definition refers to if something is taxing then that means it’s burdensome or tiresome. The other definition is the more common understanding – a tax is a monetary payment levied by a government on its people or businesses. Taxes can be collected on a number of things: income, sales, property, etc. I believe the latter definition is the or definition, or implied meaning, that is being used for this phrase.
Ok, now the main reason for this post…
The fact is, I have the ability to choose whether or not I will buy a lottery ticket – I am in no way whatsoever forced to buy a lottery ticket. And the good news is, everybody else has this same ability to choose on their own. Now…taxes are a different matter. If I choose to not pay my income tax a certain group of people in the IRS might object to my choice. What I’m trying to say is, I don’t have the ability to choose whether or not I will pay my taxes – it is automatically included in to everything you and I buy and automatically deducted out of your paycheck*. When you buy your groceries does the checker ask you, “Would you like to pay sales tax on your bread, butter, and apple juice?” No, that choice is not given – it’s automatically included in to your total.
If I choose to not pay my income tax I have the very real possibility of going to jail for being a tax evader. If I choose to not buy a lottery ticket well…there’s no penalty. And because of this I think it is woefully incorrect to call it a “tax on the poor”.
Finally, you might be thinking, this is just an issue of semantics. Well, actually, yes, it kind of is. Semantics is looking at the meaning behind words and phrases and that’s pretty much what I just did. I think we need to avoid being lazy with our words and instead be more intentional with our words, and the implied messages we send. Saying it’s a “tax on the poor” might tug on the heartstrings but it is categorically incorrect. Furthermore, I think we need to be more responsible with the words we choose. Responsible = able to give a response. Hopefully we can be more cognizant and intentional of the words and phrases we choose instead of merely just provoking a reaction.
Provoking a reaction isn’t the same thing as saying something significant.
– Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes
* I am an independent contractor, my income tax is not automatically deducted out of my paycheck. Uncle Sam instead allows me to smile and write a check to him each quarter to cover my portion.