Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Aug 23, 1947
Looking for something cheerful to write about on the eve of August holiday, I suddenly thought how lucky so many people are to be income tax payers nowadays.
Until recent times the income tax payers were a comparatively small privileged class. When I was in my twenties to belong to that class was one of my most pleasant dreams and it was a dream that had little hope of ever being fulfilled. Lunching at Lockhart’s on a three-half-penny pot of tea and a roll and butter, I thought of the income tax payers as people highly favored by destiny, like the people you see in the royal enclosure at Ascot.
To be an income tax payer, indeed, seemed synonymous with happiness.
There was an earlier period, I may say, when in a less worldly spirit I renounced ambition and longed only for 10s. a week on which I could go and live, rather like Thoureau, in a shilling-a-week laborer’s cottage on my grandfather’s farm.
I felt that if I could live alone, eating beans and such things out of my vegetable plot and drinking water, I might develop a strong character, utterly free from indolence and fearless even of dogs. My father, however, insisted that I should go to college instead and as a result I have been a worldling, lazy and afraid of dogs, ever since.
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In some ways I do not regret my father’s decision, for if he had given way to me, I should never have become an income tax payer and experienced the happiness that this brings in its train.
To become an income tax payer is, as I discovered, to become a property-owner or, at least, to feel much more of a property-owner, than one felt when one merely contributed odd pennies to the taxation on tea and tobacco. Of the income tax payer it may be much more truly said than of the mere tea drinker, for example, that he owns the houses of parliament and all the imposing government buildings throughout the country.
He has lately become a coal owner and will soon be a proprietor of railways. He owns the British army, navy and air force and is the paymaster of cabinet ministers and judges. He owns the sea for some miles off the coast and the air for some distance over his head.
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Naturally the income tax payers have become a proud race, and there has been more and more of a scramble to join their ranks. The price of admission to this once exclusive circle has become higher and higher; but this has not chilled the ardour of candidates for membership. There would be no surer way of causing a strike today than bringing the income of any group below the income tax paying lever.
It is said that there are still a few people who, being new to the tax, dislike it as even the rich used to do. One hears even of men who are unwilling to work overtime because the more overtime they work the more income tax they will have to pay.
* * *
Perhaps the anti-income tax people would change their minds if they realized that the income tax is simply a luxury tax, and that the luxury for which it is paid is freedom, freedom from being ruled, organized, spied upon and, perhaps, concentration camped or even shot by the Nazis.
* * *
Had it not been for the income tax it is doubtful whether the ordinary Englishman would now be able to sit in his public-house or even his home, talking about anything he pleases and denouncing his rulers, if he is so inclined. He might be a member of a slave gang in Germany and he would probably be a member of a slave gang even if he remained in England.
Is not a luxury tax or purchase tax as well worth paying on freedom as on a handbag? Is not liberty as much an entertainment as is provided in any theatre or cinema? We are willing to spend all our savings on a holiday, and who can imagine a holiday to compare with a permanent holiday from Nazi rule?
I have never much wanted to be a millionaire, but I feel that there must be some pleasure being a millionaire now when a rich man knows that his income is not being wasted on superfluities but is a part of the purchase price of the greatest treasure ever bought by any nation—the treasure of freedom!
* * *
I admit that I often regret that freedom is so expensive, but when you think of its opposite you realize how enjoyable it is and that no holiday would be complete without it.
Hence, as you walk along the sea-front during the weekend and draw a deep breath of mixed ozone and freedom, do not forget that your freedom, like your lunch has to be paid for, and be glad that you are an income tax payer.
I very much wish that I could feel that when my income tax demand arrives. Unfortunately I do not; but how much more cheerful I should be if I did—as cheerful as you will feel if you take my advice during your holiday or, as an alternative forget about income tax altogether.