Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Death and Taxes

It was Benjamin Franklin who said that nothing in life was certain but death and taxes. Personally I wouldn’t argue with that, except for the fact that income tax was only administered first during the Napoleonic Wars, whereas death - by my reckoning - has been around for a good while longer. And while death might be difficult to reconcile with your life at times, at least it makes some sort of sense.

Mind you, there may be other ways in which the two things are similar. Both of them ask you to make an account of your life. In the case of death, it forces you to think of all the things you have done, whether for good or for evil, in this world. In the case of taxes, it asks you to account for all those grubby invoices and crumpled receipts that have been gathering dust in a cardboard shoebox for the past year, none of which make any sense whatsoever.

Not that I am contemplating death at this particular moment. I am, however, considering my tax returns.

God, I hate this time of the year. Christmas is over, the New Year has come and gone. You’ve spent too much money on pointless frivolities and unwanted presents, have overindulged in every kind liquid substance you can funnel into your mouth and have bloated out like a beached whale with all the excess of food. You’ve made your resolutions, and probably already failed to keep most of them. There’s several months of winter ahead, of sweeping winds and scudding clouds and relentless rain and darkness, and nothing on the TV but makeover programmes and repeats. And then the bills start flopping through your letter box and you have your tax returns to complete.

I mean, what mean-minded petty bureaucrat decided that this was the time to make you have to deal with all of this? As if the bills weren’t enough, now you have to answer for every half-remembered expenditure, every dodgy financial decision and every untraceable cheque from whatever source that has inadvertently found its way into your bank account for the last year or so.

Money is only money after all. It’s either there, or it’s not. And when it’s not there you have little choice but to find ways of making it again.

It’s a bit like oxygen, really. It pumps around in the body of your life keeping you going. You breath in, you breath out. You have money, you spend it. Imagine if some clever bureaucrat had devised ways of making you account for all the oxygen in your blood: if you had to keep written records of all the times you had breathed and for what purpose, as if every expenditure of energy on this or that activity had to be accounted for and cross-referenced and noted down in your yearly oxygen-returns, twenty to twenty five percent of which had then to be paid to the government. I mean: you’d stop bothering to breath, wouldn’t you?

Well I wouldn’t mind so much if I thought the government was using my money wisely: for improvements in our public services, say, for education, or for a decent transport system. Instead of which we have foreign military adventures, private finance initiatives, back-handers to Third-World Dictators and mounting debts for our young people in the name of a third-class education.

What’s a private finance initiative, you ask? It’s your tax money given to private companies so they can run-down our public services, while making a profit at the same time.

What‘s the point, that‘s what I‘d like to know? At least death serves a purpose. It’s there to keep the queues down at the Post Office on pension day.

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