Monday, May 16, 2011

Raise My Social Security Taxes

I have a great job and I love it. And I may as well say this on the night of a Full Moon as any other night.

I worked my ass off, teaching all day and preparing for and going to law school all night -- for six really (really!) long years -- to get it, making an insane commute and coming in near the top of my class, interviewing my (again) ass off [you'd think I'd have a smaller one!], landing a great summer job, making assistant editor of law review, and then landing, at an advanced age, in a first year position where, yet again, I worked my ass off for years in order to prove myself. Those were, IMHO, fair trades, and I would gladly, in Teasdale's words, buy it [all over again] and never count the cost. I love the intellectual stimulation of my job, the atmosphere of the firm where I work, the clients for whom I work, the projects that I help to make happen, and the other lawyers with whom I work. I love the calibre of my opponents; maybe some things feel better than besting people who are really, really good at what they do, but I'd be hard pressed to name them on a day when I've fought off the collective strengths of a bunch of (natch) men who are used to winning because they are so good. I love the demands of the courts in front of which I practice and I love getting paid to research, think, and write. It's what I was born to do and I do it, if I say so myself, pretty damn well. You have to be a huge geek to enjoy doing what I do, and yet, there are nights that I drive home completely mainlining the law and can't go to sleep because I am so excited by what I do. It's not something I post much about on this blog, but it's a big part of who I am.

Which is all a long wind-up to my main point, but also crucial to a preliminary point that I want to make. I make, thank the Goddess, a darn good living and I know that. And I appreciate it and I am grateful for it and there were many years when I did more important work and got paid a whole lot less. And I recognize my responsibility to give back, not only through pro bono hours (which I do, every year, and just finished doing for this year), but also through a program of planned giving to political and charitable causes that I select every year. And I don't apologize to anyone for what I make because, see, e.g., paragraph no. 2 above, I worked, and still work, my ass off for it.

Yet, I've learned that the fastest way in the world to start a war in the Pagan community, to make readers angry, and to trigger all kinds of shadow issues is to post about finances. We may say that we don't believe in sacrifice ["Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice, for behold, I am the Mother of all things and My love is poured out upon the earth."], and that matter is not fallen, but talk about prosperity, financial good sense, or living well, and Pagans often respond not to what you've actually said but to what they hear, coming through the shadows of their own issues about money. Which explains, I hope, my long-winded wind-up to what I'm going to say:

I'm through paying Social Security taxes for the year.

As you may know, there's a "cap" on the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax. After you earn $106,800.00, you stop paying Social Security taxes. I passed that point some time ago.

And, yet, what always strikes me is that I've managed to live pretty damn well during the months that I do pay Social Security taxes. I don't have any debts other than my mortgage. My 401k is fully funded. I've put money into savings. I've paid off my 30-year mortgage at a 15-year rate. I have a house-cleaning service that does most of my housework, a lawn service that seeds and mows my lawn, a Landscape Guy who helps me with my garden, and I shop at Whole Foods and Balducci's as often as not. I get a weekly massage and I head to Georgetown once a month to get highlights from the guy who used to do them for a lovely French actress. And then I go out for oysters & martinis. I can afford to take G/Son to the toy store or the Ren Faire and I can rent all the movies on Netflix that he wants to see. I've spent a lot of money on my garden which, although it is probably an investment in the value of my property, is mostly for my own enjoyment. I've given money to causes that I like and I've helped to make sure G/Son gets the kind of education, organic produce, and sports programs that I wish all children could get. When things come up, be they the need for a new hot water heater or the desire to send money to friends protesting in Wisconsin, I'm able to cover them without really missing a beat. (To be fair, there are things I don't spend money on. I own an 8-year-old, modest, hybrid car and I haven't been on a vacation in a years. I live in a tiny cottage. I have neither a flat-screen tv nor cable and I can go all week without turning on any lights unless I have company. I don't spend a lot on clothes and I don't go out much except for the occasional ballet.) Bottom line, I could pay more taxes and not be miserable, as could all the people who make even more than I do.

And you know, I could go on living pretty well even if I had to pay Social Security tax until August, or October, or even December. Which is my point (and, see, I did have one). I wouldn't work any less intensely or "innovate" any less (seriously, at this level, more money is v. nice, but beating the opposition will keep me from "going Galt," for many, many hours), or be any less interested in making more money (seriously, Moon in Taurus, what more can I say?) if I did have to keep paying Social Security tax.

I don't fancy myself an investment genius. I pay once a year for some professional investment advice and, as soon as I'm through paying the Social Security tax, the delta goes into saving for my retirement, and the difference is that, at least for the time being, that delta benefits my financial advisor and the investment community rather than some old person who needs medicine and rent and would like to buy hir G/Son a new book, or some music lessons, or a pair of soft cotton pajamas. And, the difference is that the money I invest for my retirement can disappear tomorrow in another market meltdown.

And, so I say: "Raise the cap. Keep on taxing me." I make a good living and I worked hard for it and I'd be proud to be able to pay more Social Security taxes now than, say, some school teacher who may not make all year what I've made from January until now. I can afford it and still live a v nice life. I'd rather pay it than see old people live out their last years (I'm going to be there soon), worrying about bills, scrimping all the time, unable to enjoy their retirement. What's happened to America that we want to make old people suffer so that Paris Hilton, or an investment banker, or Hecate Demetersdatter, who already have quite a lot, can get even more? We used to be better than that. We used to believe E pluribus unum; we used to believe that those who've benefitted from the investment of the many into America (and I went to public schools and a state law school, drove on public roads to and from law school, benefitted from the existence of federal agencies and courts, and benefitted in other unnamed ways from the investment of many Americans in America), should give back to America; we used to believe that "United We Stand; Divided, We Fall."

I still do.

Raise the cap on my Social Security taxes.

Picture found here.


Makarios said...

This is an issue where framing makes a big difference. Take the term "payroll taxes," for example. Since Social Security is actually a form of social insurance, what you are paying is not a tax, but insurance premiums. Our equivalent in Canada is the Canada Pension Plan, which designation makes it perhaps clearer that employee (and employer) contributions are, again, premiums--in fact, a form of savings. The only Canadians whom I have heard referring to "payroll taxes" are employers (who object to having to pay their portions) and right-wing think tanks that want to privatize the whole shebang.

And with regard to the greater issue of taxation and "giving back" that you raise in your final paragraph--yes indeed. It is, IMO, a bit rich that some of the people who complain most vociferously about their tax burden are those who have benefited most greatly from the social goods that taxes pay for.

Michael in Cambridge said...

Thank you, Hecate. I especially like the way you allude to living well during the months you were paying social security "taxes."

And, per Makarios, I dearly wish that we had an America Pension Plan, so that all Americans could like forward to security during their retirement. Because "Social Security" sure doesn't provide security.

Solitary Pagan said...

Well said, Hecate. Well said. I very much agree and feel the same.

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