In our competitive, bi-weekly nine hole golf outings, there are no “gimme” putts, even when short putts are “tap-ins.” It’s a rule that Warren, our diligent score-keeper, enforces like a PGA official. He doesn’t allow “gimmes” because he never found one restaurant in America that serves a “free lunch.” I can’t blame him for being so strict because I haven’t found one either.
Nevertheless, unlike the Loch Ness Monster, I’m sure there is a place where that elusive meal is being served to the homeless, the down-and-out beggars, and anyone who is financially challenged. You know the kind of meal I’m referring to: a potluck with recycled, plastic eating utensils, thin paper napkins and plates, and some healthy, organic fruit for dessert. Such is the generosity of the liberal adults that make up the majority of the compassionate inhabitants of the Golden State of California.
“Better to teach those unfortunates how to fish, than provide them with a gourmet fish fry” is the sage advice I’ve heard. Even Jesus found that out. Still the popular philosophy in our modern religious society urges us to serve the poor at least a vegetable plate with their bottled water, after you have counted the calories and read the labels on the donated canned goods. No day-old bread, please, too many carbs! Easy on the sugar and salt, and the high caloric gravy, too.
So, Warren challenged me to write something about the forgotten lesson of making do with what you have and about the importance of making all three foot (or less) putts during a practice round – just in case one of us are invited to participate in a serious golf tournament where prize money is involved! As a result of his incessant prodding, I have identified so many “free lunches,” that I’m afraid that you are going to be bored unless I keep this musing short.
All my examples and anecdotes are generic, so that no one will suspect that I’m writing about their free lunch. Or reimbursable business expense, where some corporate lackey picks up the tab for the expensive meal eaten by other employees and clients at some posh restaurant. These tax deductible breakfasts, brunches, lunches, and dinners which include the diners’ favorite overpriced drinks reduce corporate income taxes. The material benefits received by the guests are not taxed as income to any of the diners either. Someone is having a free lunch here, if you believe as I do, that avoiding taxes saves someone a little out-of-pocket money.
Since paying taxes is a citizen’s obligation infinitely more sacred than a marriage vow, many responsible taxpayers are not getting their share of free lunches! Receiving preferential tax treatment is a legal but insidious form of secretly distributing free lunches which our politicians have invented to reward their friends and the contributors to their election campaigns. Avoiding paying your “fair share” of income taxes is considered a criminal offense punished by a high interest rate on the underpaid amount, fines, confiscation of assets, and even jail time.
In my humble estimation, any reduction from the standard amount of income tax normally payable by the innocent, the conscientious, and the ill-advised is the equivalent of a free lunch if not a full-blown banquet. Some of you may object to this classification, but everything is relative. A dollar saved, as you well know, is not necessarily a dollar earned subject to taxes!
Beginning with our controversial and non-confiscatory inheritance tax law that is being phased out if the sunset date isn’t delayed by the Democrats, the luckiest recipients of the free lunch in America are the children of the deceased idle rich. After these well-fed free spirits, come all the beneficiaries of the other tax “loop holes” that deserving, hard-working, sacrificing, and sometimes IRS-audited taxpayers have accepted as “just” – thanks to the democratic process of electing conscientious representatives to approve each preferential tax regulation.
All general business expense deductions, the rapid amortization of fixed assets, the “expensing” of certain capital items, the stock-option tax treatments, etc. permit companies and corporations to pay less taxes and make more money for their investors. Since those manipulated profits buoy up our speculative stock markets, they must be jealously guarded by the lawyers and public accountants, so that your gambling in the stock market can prosper. Whatever form of gambling you choose, of course, usually turns into a free lunch for the winners. What effort did they actually expend to reap the winner’s pay-out? Your guess is as good as mine!
Those rugged individualistic entrepreneurs who work out of their homes are allowed to deduct part of the cost of their residence, their home entertainment of “clients,” their office, telephone, and computer expense which would not be deductible for the taxpayer who works outside his/her home. Now what person working at home is going to keep track of (and diligently separate) his personal from his business expenses? No one I know, and there aren’t enough IRS auditors to challenge their tax returns.
The cost to travel on company business is deductible even when it is tied in with personal business. Interest on home mortgages is a deductible expense, but rent paid is not. Clothing expenses are deductible if the clothes are “costumes” used in the entertainment business. The cost of uniforms required by an employer are also deductible. Normal attire (casual or otherwise) that is worn in an office is not. Contributions to your church are deductible, so anyone who drops a mite or more into the collection plate receives an income tax benefit like the rich international travelers who spend their money in “Duty Free” shops.
Any activity that is subsidized by the government like corporate farming is receiving something that other businesses and the general public is not receiving. All bad debts can be written off by businesses but not by individuals. These business debts are comparable to “gambling” debts, but they aren’t treated that way by corporate income tax law. Gifts up to a certain amount given to individuals today are tax free and can be used by individuals to buy lunches that aren’t free. Personal medical expenses are deductible if you are very sick and spend significantly more than your medical insurance company pays. The healthy and accident-free taxpayer receives no reduction in his income taxes for maintaining his “wellness,” but the company who pays a portion of its employees’ medical insurance premiums is authorized a large deduction for those essential expenses.
Then, there are the families who have children and send them off to college. The parents of these children are given tax exemptions and tax deductions for their failure to use contraceptives. If you happen to live longer than 65 years, you are granted additional tax benefits but you are taxed on 85% your social security income. So, you get a small “free lunch” from one hand of the omnipotent IRS, while they are snatching it back with the other hand before you can eat all of it.
The result of all this complicated giving and taking of tax benefits is a subtle redistribution of income and a major syphoning off of the excessive income earned by the overpaid professionals, managers, and basic wage earners in our society. These income taxes are used to pay for the out-of-control cost of government services.
The “gimme” mentality of the “have-nots” is endorsed by all the politicians who run for office and who desire to make “have-a-lots” feel guilty for the misery of those wannabe golfers who can’t pay green fees, much less try to make a three foot putt. We all know that golf is an expensive sport which takes up valuable green space that otherwise could be better used for low-income housing and more parks for the general public and those messy Canadian geese. Comes the revolution…
If you are now convinced that there are all kinds of “free lunches” buried in the tax code which many privileged folks both rich and poor are enjoying, then you can’t play golf with us. Warren says: “No gimmes! No free lunches!” Wouldn’t it be much simpler if everyone paid a fixed percentage of ALL their income – no exemptions and no deductions. No “tax breaks” and no deductions for contributions to those frivolous political parties, either! All we would need is a simple, one page Form 1040 that truly eliminates all kinds of “free lunches.” But be warned, the 50% of us who pay no income taxes today will storm the citadel.
Meanwhile, I’m going to the practice green to improve my short putting game. There will be no gimmes after Warren and I tee off!
P.S. Since I am not an authority on income tax law, just a confused taxpayer without a tax shelter as most of you are, please check with your Tax Preparer or CPA to determine how you might enjoy the many “free lunches” that are being offered by the latest income tax regulations.