RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Taxes and Investments

Ah … tax time! Who doesn’t love it? All the shoe boxes emptied on the kitchen table. The stacks of papers. The rows of numbers. The plusses—the minuses. Unlike life, spilling from one year into the next, figuring yearly accounts comes to an end.

Money is finite: Here’s where you were smart, and here’s where you were dumb. Better luck next year.

And you have the satisfaction of knowing your money is going to pay for schools, fire protection, safer neighborhoods, and to help the single mom down the street pay for health care. Not.

Every year, a group forms in front of the post office on April 15 and hands out papers printed with a graph showing where your tax money goes. So much for agriculture, so much for education, so much for weapons. I’m interested in seeing how they’ll handle the three trillion dollar war. It will take a generation to pay it off.

At least in 2007, filing taxes will bring a $600 thank-you from Uncle Sam, to be paid back by your children, like all the other debts of this administration, with interest.

This $600 thank-you is supposed to stimulate the economy. Which economy would that be? OPEC’s? China’s? You can bet the stimulation is supposed to help big business and it won’t provide jobs.

As far as I can tell, my friends are using their windfalls to pay credit card bills and other debts incurred because they’ve already spent too much on gas from OPEC and plastic stuff from China. Those credit card bills mount up fast. Miss a payment by just a few days and your rate goes up, forever. You may have gotten a card with a single-digit rate, but if you’re a little late in paying it they can charge a much higher rate—18% or more.

It’s not called “Bait and Switch.” It’s called “Low Introductory Rate.”

Bring back the usury laws! Please!

But let’s talk about your $600. Or, if you’re married, $1,200. Or, if you have kids, an extra $300 per kid. We’re talking real money here. And, rather than spend your bonus dough on more stuff, why not donate a percentage to your favorite not-for-profit?

This could be the year, for example, you actually support a political candidate. Or maybe you’ll help the environment or cure cancer. Or, here’s an idea, give a subscription to your favorite political journal to all your friends—and, yes, that’s a hint.

But let’s say you want to invest some of it, but you can’t think of a good, trustworthy investment. Three words: The Forever Stamp.

If the Bush administration had done nothing else to screw over the future, the Forever Stamp wins them a place in the Rogues’ Gallery. Priced at 41 cents, you can buy as many as you want and use them to send letters … forever. No matter how high the real price of mail delivery climbs.

And it will climb. In fact, it will climb to 42 cents on May 13, maybe before you get your $600. And, at the rate of climb in the last few years, it will be into the fifties before your junior high student is in college. So if you invest, say, $410 in Forever Stamps … that’s 1,000 stamps, you’ve made $10 every time the stamp price goes up a penny. Again, selling “forever” stamps today is a way for the government to take money now and defer costs to the future. Those that don’t buy them today will pay the extra freight, and that means deferring extra costs to the young and the poor.

Business as usual for this administration.

But maybe a drawer full of stamps isn’t your idea of fun. Please use your tax gift to help your local economy. Shop in your neighborhood!

One neighborhood in our county-seat town has surveyed residents and found that there is a jewelry maker, two quilters, a plumber, a baker and other neighbors with special skills in the blocks that make up their “district.” And if neighbors are looking for furniture or appliances, this neighborhood, near the University and with a component of students, is also well-fixed with garage sales every spring.

And there’s the farmers’ market.

I haven’t done my comparison shopping for 2008 yet, but every year I’ve done as well or better on food buys from the farmers’ market than from the Big Box stores. This year, I’ll probably do even better, with the price of gas as high as it is because all the stuff at the Big Box stores gets there on waves of petroleum.

Or, wait, here’s an idea: How about building your own self-sufficient system for your household. Maybe you’ll buy a couple of solar collectors to run the lights in your living room. Or maybe you’ll hire someone to dig up the front yard and help you plant a vegetable garden. Or spend your money to fix up that old bicycle. Or buy a sewing machine. Or start a neighborhood business of your own.

Whatever you do with your bonus bucks, make sure you’re part of the solution by fighting the big business scheme.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2008

Home Page

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2008 The Progressive Populist.