Writers on Taxes: Quotations of Death and Humor From Plato to John Grisham
Except for the deadline disadvantaged, most of us already have filled out and submitted our Forms 1040, an annual chore that’s one of the few constants in our continually changing society.
In recognition of that shared ordeal, here are some quotations about America's tax system—whether negative (almost invariably) or positive (seldom).
The following quotes bring to vibrant life a dry subject that has been the source of fierce political contention:
The Firm, John Grisham’s best-selling thriller, became a 1993 film that starred Tom Cruise as a young lawyer seduced into working for a snazzy law firm that launders money for the Mafia. In the movie version, a mob mouthpiece describes tax law as “a game we teach the rich how to play so they can stay rich. The IRS keeps changing the rules so we can keep getting rich teaching them.”
“Income tax returns are the most imaginative fiction being written today.”— Herman Wouk
“Dear Mr. President, Internal Revenue regulations will turn us into a nation of bookkeepers. The life of every citizen is becoming a business. This, it seems to me, is one of the worst interpretations of the meaning of human life history has ever seen. Man's life is not a business.”— Saul Bellow, Herzog, 1964
As Plato foresaw in The Republic nearly 2,500 years ago: "When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income."
Fran Lebowitz on dogs: “A dog who thinks he is man's best friend is a dog who obviously has never met a tax lawyer.” And on children: “If you are truly serious about preparing your child for the future, don't teach him to subtract — teach him to deduct.”
Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, Gone with the Wind, is a romantic, panoramic portrait of the Civil War and Reconstruction periods in Georgia, not taxes. But Scarlet O’Hara grouses: “Death and taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them!”
Leo Tolstoy’s most popular work, Anna Karenina, is the story of Anna Karenina, a fashionable married woman, who has an affair with Count Alexy Vronsky. The liaison ends horribly when she throws herself under the wheels of a train.
There’ve been at least 14 film versions of the Russian romance. By my reckoning, the best adaptations were a 1927 silent movie with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert and a1935 talkie with Garbo and Frederic March.
I intend to have a go at version 15. My adaptation will retain one of literary history’s most famous suicides, but shift the locale from nineteenth-century Russia to today’s America.
I have scripted a closing scene in which a suicidal Anna (traces of a Swedish accent, a homage to Garbo) implores the Count, "Oh, Vronsky, not another April 15th. I just can't bear it. Where’s the train?"
As for Vronsky (my memo to central casting asks it to produce an actor who speaks with a thick Russian accent and is a dead-ringer for President Vladimir Putin), he responds: ”Nyet problemy, Annichka. Let’s just go to irs.gov and follow advice that goes something like this: Use easy-to-complete Form 4868 to obtain an automatic, no-questions-asked extension for six months to October 15, a tactic that allows a person to sidestep a nondeductible late-filing penalty of as much as 25% of the balance due, though a person remains liable for interest charges and a late-payment penalty from April 15 to the date a1040 form arrives at the IRS.”
The denouement for Vronsky is his breakdown, when he realizes that chatting interminably with Anna about IRS forms, due dates for their submissions, penalties for missing deadlines, interest charges for overdue payments, and instructions written in indecipherable bureaucratese on how to satisfy these requirements only strengthens Anna’s resolve to end her life.
To better my prospects for a showing on the festival circuit, the film’s final frame (cue Norma Desmond, another protagonist who’s mad, suicidal, and obsessively narcissistic) will be a lingering, silent, terribly close close-up in which Anna studies a railroad time table that rests upon a crumpled 4868 form.
Additional articles. A reminder for accountants who would welcome advice on how to alert clients to tactics that trim taxes for this year and even give a head start for next year: Delve into the archive of my articles (more than 200 and counting).
Stay competitive with your fellow accountants who turn to the articles when, say, they correspond with clients or they want to show clients how to nimbly sidestep pitfalls while capitalizing on opportunities to diminish, delay, or deep-six payments of sizable amounts that would otherwise swell IRS coffers.
Also be mindful of the articles when you strive to build name recognition, a goal attainable only by choosing and implementing strategies that set you apart from ferocious competition. Use the articles to prepare talks to audiences, such as business owners, investors, and retirees.