Lyrics from a song that was sung by several artists including Donny Osmond gave me the title for this post. The fact that I am using something sung by the Osmonds also gives away my age.
I set my sights and make my run
And son of a gun
I was a day late and a dollar short
All the sweet cookies in the store been bought
The lyrics suggest that the singer has his eye on an objective but, son of a gun, he was too late to get it accomplished.
I worry that this may be the situation in which we find ourselves with respect to tax reform in the United States. If it is not already too late to do anything about the situation, it may soon be.
It seems everyone has a complaint about the tax code: soldier and sailor, politician and citizen, farmer and store clerk. But all stand by and do nothing. Americans fail to act and we permit our elected leaders to remain idle.
American history is a remarkable, powerful story. Like all human journals, this saga includes chapters on human weakness and frailty and and stories of failed efforts. Included among those stories is a tale of “nothingness.” A political party was created in the mid-nineteenth century actually called the “know-nothing” party. If asked about one’s heritage, members were told to say, as did Sgt. Shultz in the TV series Hogan’s Heroes, “I know nothing.” More recently, beginning with the 1948 Presidential election, Democrats have made several attempts to paint Republicans with the name, the “do-nothing” party.
So I ask you, when considering the need for tax reform, are we all members of that now defunct party, the “know-nothings” or do we just “do-nothing?” I thought about phrasing the second alternative in that last question as “…or are we all members of the Republican Party…” but I worried about the social media backlash.
In Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, we read Hamlet's soliloquy beginning with the oft quoted line "To be, or not to be- that is the question." But the following continuation is relevant to the challenge we face.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them.
I ask once more, do we know-nothing or simply do-nothing? Are we unaware of the problem or just not sufficiently disturbed to do anything about it? Have we acquiesced to our suffering under the tax code?
The easy answer is that we know nothing. But we do know! All of us! The tax system in the United States is inefficient; it is unfair; it is confusing and cumbersome. Everyone knows that. We may disagree on the detail but we agree on the fundamental premise.
The answer to my question must then be that we collectively fail to “take arms against” our seriously flawed tax system – Republicans and Democrats, Independents and Libertarians alike. Those we elect and those seeking office all promise and none act. I recently read an article that described the effort for tax reform with the line, “Taxes aren’t cheap but tax talk is!”
Lest you think “so what”, I must point out that this inaction incurs a risk. Avoiding the issue now increases the cost of future actions.
“… now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure…Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”
These words seem especially prescient. Sadly, however, this profound oratory was not the preamble to meaningful debate on tax reform. These sentiments were conveyed, not last week in Congress, but in a speech by MP Winston Churchill delivered to the British Parliament on May 2, 1935. We should heed his implied warning with respect to fixing our broken tax system.
Many conservatives criticize those who receive payments from tax credits such as the earned income tax credit. Those with a more liberal perspective complain about the relatively low tax rates paid by wealthy investors. All rail against the loss of jobs overseas and now of entire companies as a byproduct of the tax code. Every year since its creation, the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate has advised Congress that the inconsistencies and inequities caused by the complexity of our tax code beg for meaningful tax reform.
These complaints do not fall on deaf ears. They are heard. In fact, those listening are shouting the same concerns. We are, as the saying goes, preaching to the choir.
I recognize that this discourse is redundant, but so too are Americans repetitive in our actions, or more accurately described, our inaction. All of us, they, we, each and every one of us continue to do nothing. That inaction perpetuates the “endless repetition of history” to which Churchill alluded. Over and over we “go through the motions” of complaining about our taxes.
I once heard it said that rather than complain about a situation you should do one of two things - fix the problem, or learn to live with it.
Will history say of early 21st century Americans that, like our founding fathers, we did what was necessary to address a complex, unfair, burdensome tax system? Or will future historians report that we acquiesced? Worst of all, will the chapter of our time read that we were a day late and a dollar short.
The idiom quoted in the title to this post, a day late and a dollar short, is typically used to indicate that someone has missed an opportunity. Another way to express this sentiment is “too little, too late.”
It is believed that opportunity knocks but once. If true, America must answer the call! We must not miss this opportunity! We cannot afford to wait! Not another minute! Together, Americans must act. We must compel the President and Congress to enact real tax reform.
(1) Join the conversation. Post your comments on Facebook, twitter and other social media.
(2) Get informed. Read our tax laws and gain understanding of the insanity we have implemented.
(3) Write and call elected representatives. Tell them not only will they lose your vote if they do not support tax reform, but that you will actively support any opponent who does.
(4) Submit your concerns, your questions and your suggestions to the suggestion box for tax reform established by The Office of the Taxpayer Advocate at:
Have to run. I think my ship just came in and assuming I have the shekels for a vacation cruise, I don’t want to be late for boarding.
See you later alligator!