How We Can Eliminate Income Taxes

Note: With Memorial Day weekend ad sales consuming vast amounts of my time this week, along with the arrival of the first two Door County Living photography books that need to be sold and distributed throughout the county, I am reprinting an old column this week.The following column originally appeared in the Door Reminder on June 5, 2001. In the intervening years no one has seized upon this idea, but I still feel it has merit. I should also note that, at the time this column was written, Cathy Hoke was working in my bookstore – this, of course, was before she got a real job at the Peninsula School of Art.

During the past week I’ve been thinking about taxes. Of course, the chief impetus for these thoughts was the Congressional action on President Bush’s tax reform proposal. And my thoughts were further spurred by finally receiving my federal income tax refund check in the mail.

At this point it seems as though some version of Bush’s tax proposal will be passed and, theoretically, we will all be able to look forward to an additional refund check sometime later this year. In the near term, this will probably be welcomed by just about everyone (after all, who doesn’t like to receive money), but in the long term, I harbor grave doubts about the wisdom of this bill.

I tried to do my part as a citizen by writing to my Congressmen with an idea that made a great deal of sense – particularly to me. In essence, I proposed that the tax deduction for credit card interest be re-instated, with a maximum allowed deduction of $2,500. Those who did not, or could not, itemize their deductions would be entitled to a flat $500 deduction. This plan is simple, it puts money directly into the hands of every taxpayer in America, and might even encourage some consumers to spend a little more than they might otherwise, thereby helping the economy. Unfortunately, the best I received was a form letter from my elected representatives, which failed to address a single aspect of my suggestion. Undeterred, I kept thinking.

Well, last Thursday I had an epiphany. As I stood at the bookstore’s front counter, sorting the day’s mail with Cathy Hoke, we paused to page through a catalog. This particular catalog came from a company that sells what I refer to as gewgaws: lots of schlock and nothing but schlock. Nonetheless, as we paged through chuckling at the absurdity of the products we came upon approximately six full pages of nothing but junk for the Fourth of July: item after item of red, white & blue, star-spangled gimcracks and falderol. It was grotesque – but it was inspirational!

“What do you think of this idea?” I ventured in Cathy’s direction. “What if, the federal government licensed the flag? Every time someone made anything with the flag on it they would pay the government a licensing fee.”

“And how are you going to define what constitutes a flag?” Cathy responded with cool skepticism. “What about this,” she continued, pointing to a peculiar little contraption of red, white, and blue stripes that – for reasons known only to the manufacturer – clapped. “Would this be considered to represent the flag?”

“Sure,” I responded, with wavering conviction. “The intent is clear. The product is supposed to be patriotic and it clearly has red, white and blue stripes.”

“Yes,” she persisted, “but the stripes are at an angle rather than horizontal, so it’s not directly imitating the flag. And besides, where are the stars?”

I hesitated, pondering my best response, but she continued, clearly enjoying the dismantling of my concept. “That’s the problem, all someone has to do is slightly modify the design and then there’s no licensing fee required. Unless you think that everything that has red, white and blue on it would require a licensing fee”

I knew she was right from my years in advertising, but I still despised her for being right. “Well, there ought to be a way to make it work,” I responded rather feebly. “Think of the money that could be raised. It might even make income tax obsolete.”

“You’re really not well, you know that?” Cathy replied.

Momentarily dejected, I let the subject drop. Obviously there were some problems with the concept, but the fundamental premise, I felt sure, had possibilities. I kept reviewing Cathy’s accurate (though infuriating) responses in my mind.

As so often happens, my breakthrough came in the early morning hours of Saturday. Unable to sleep, my mind roiled through all manner of subject before the conversation with Cathy returned. In particular her words “Unless you think that everything that has red, white and blue on it would require a licensing fee,” kept twisting in my mind.

Suddenly, at 2:47 a.m., a breakthrough: forget licensing the flag, the Federal government should assume ownership of a color and sell licensing rights to any use of that color. Red, quite obviously, was out of the question since it has a symbolic value in our society that, for practical purposes, would preclude it from licensing. And white wouldn’t work since people seem unlikely to tolerate a licensing fee added on to the cost of their toilet paper. Blue, on the other hand, would work very, very well.

Think of it, folks! Blue is the most common answer to the question, “What is your favorite color?” Blue jeans are worn across the country. And with all the other colors that are freely available to us, can’t we willing part with a single color for the good of our country.

Yes, I can hear Cathy questioning the viability of this color. “What about sky blue or sea blue or turquoise? How do you intend to define blue?” Well, this time I have an answer: we will simply use the printer’s Pantone color book and any color contained in the book that is made up of at least 40 percent cyan will be the federal government’s to license. Any use of these blues will require a manufacturer to pay a special licensing fee directly to the government. People will proudly wear blue, drive blue cars, and paint their homes blue! Just to show their patriotism.

And, if all goes as I envision, income tax will become a thing of the past. No more forms that take an estimated 8 ¾ hours to complete and 73 hours of recordkeeping that necessitate three major arguments with your spouse (or significant other). They’ll all be gone and only BLUE will remain.

Grab your pens, folks, it’s time to write your representatives. Let them know that the time has come for a change and that you – like me – are willing to pay for Blue for the good of our country. Together, we can make this work!