I can’t really complain about my current income level. I make a pretty decent amount of money, and compared to most of the country I make a fairly envious amount of money. Compared to most of the world, I am in the top 1% of earners. I could never legitimately complain that I don’t make enough money and I wouldn’t stand around grumping that I should be making more. It would be disingenuous.
However, I will complain about the mentality my state government has adopted regarding how it treats the money its citizens earn. Rather than finding ways to encourage us to become more productive, it finds ways to make us resentful of any success at all by siphoning away the money we make so it can redistribute it to others. I’m all for being charitable, but what right does the government have to force me to be so? Why can’t I choose where my charitable contributions are deposited?
The state of California re-imposed the healthcare mandate in 2020. At the time I found out about it, I was mildly annoyed, because I felt that it was still far cheaper to just eat the penalty rather than pay for health care all year. With insurance premiums of $300-500 per month, that’s several thousand per year and it just didn’t make sense to me to pay that much for a service I never use. I haven’t had any health insurance at all for several years now and it has never been a problem. Sure, I would be out of luck if I had a catastrophic health problem, but we all take risks and I’m personally not a fan of wasting money on a maybe. If it happens it happens and I’ll deal with it when it comes. That’s my responsibility, not yours.
When I received my W2 a few days ago, however, I started filing my taxes and found out it was too early to file my state taxes via the service I use. No problem; I’ve reached the point in my career where I don’t get returns anymore, so I’m in no rush to pay. Still, knowing there was a penalty in my future due to the mandate, I wanted to find out how much that was going to be. The state website has a convenient penalty estimator, so I plugged in my information and the result was splashed on my screen: more than $1,300!
I am completely outraged that the state of California believes that it has the right to charge me more for a state program than the federal government was charging in penalties for a nationwide program. The penalty for me back when the federal mandate was active was less than $1,000. I was expecting the California penalty to be something around $500 because generally the numbers on my state taxes are quite a bit lower than the federal number, but I was completely shocked to find out how much I’m actually going to be penalized for not purchasing a service I don’t want.
When did our country become a place that compels you to spend your money on things you don’t want? I am aware that we have been taxed from the beginning and that it isn’t completely voluntary, but most of the things that comprise the significant part of our taxes paid are for services that benefit us directly. We pay taxes so that we can have a military force to protect us from outside threats. Our taxes pay for infrastructure like roads and traffic lights and bridges. It helps us find a little more security in our police forces and firefighters and even emergency medical services. We pay our taxes and, in return, we receive something for our money.
The healthcare penalty is completely different. It punishes you for not participating in a system. It takes your money regardless of whether or not you receive any benefit. The money I will be losing this year is a complete loss; there is nothing gained for the money I will pay. The cry of the colonials in 1776 was “taxation without representation“. Today the cry should be “taxation without compensation”. It is just as bad because it amounts to legalized theft.
We have reached a critical point in our country where the government has become convinced that it has the right to impose whatever rules and extract whatever money it deems necessary to achieve the goals that the people in charge choose to prioritize. It has been building for decades, but to my knowledge this penalty idea is completely new. It represents a fundamental shift in the way that the government involves itself in our lives. It is a dangerous precedent.
It used to be the American dream that even if you were poor, you could someday become wealthy if you worked hard and made the right decisions in your life. Within a generation or two, a hard working family could rise from poverty into the upper middle class, or even millionaire status. It was the goal of every American to make more money so they could provide a better life for themselves and their families. Because of the way taxes have changed, more and more that just isn’t the goal.
For a large portion of my life, my point of view has been to avoid making a large amount of money. Partially, it is because of the amount of work required to make that kind of money. Time is far more important to me than being rich, and most of the people in the upper echelons of earning work 60-80 hours per week. I choose not to do that. Even if I ignore that, however, the other part of that decision is the knowledge that the further I climb up the income ladder, the more the government is going to take from me. I put in twice the work and only get back a fraction of that back in income. It is a system of steeply diminishing returns.
This is the problem of ideological taxation. Rather than being a system that provides basic services that everyone benefits from, it pulls money from people who work hard to give to those who don’t. This is an altruistic goal to be sure, but it ignores a fundamental part of how human beings work. We always perform a cost to benefit analysis when we decide what we are going to do. There is a certain amount of cost we are willing to pay to achieve a certain goal. When the cost exceeds what we are willing to put up with to achieve that goal, we stop pursuing it. Only truly obsessive people will continue pursuing a goal with no regard to cost, and they are an extreme minority.
So what does that mean for everyone else? When people start to realize that they have to put in more effort to receive less reward, they stop producing as much. It just doesn’t make sense to continue working hard if the money you earn is increasingly taken away from you. As more and more people start deciding that making more money just isn’t worth it anymore, they stop working hard and producing what it was they were producing. When production starts falling off, the economy starts suffering and prices go up. When prices go up, people at the low end can’t afford what they could before and begin needing assistance to survive. The government steps in to keep people from falling, which forces an increase in taxes. More taxes further decreases the benefit of hard work, which further reduces production. It is a feedback loop of negative returns.
It is a struggle for me to understand how anyone can defend this idea that taxing those who perform well to bolster those who don’t is a good idea. It makes sense on the surface that helping others is good and right and something we should do. I don’t think any reasonable person would disagree with that. It is the method in which it is being done that is objectionable. Perhaps if the government didn’t cram charity down our throats, more people would be willing to be more charitable on their own, and this is evident in the multitude of private organizations that provide charitable benefits to those in need, but when you steal our money it becomes not only more difficult to even have the ability to be charitable, but it also forces us to become more selfish because we have less available to us to maintain the life we want.
Will this post make a difference? Certainly not. No one knows me and, even if they did, this problem is bigger than one person making a statement. Our country, and specifically my state, has reached the point where the people just accept what the government tells them to do. I personally will be leaving California as soon as I am able to. This won’t free me from the federal government, but it will allow me to extract myself from a place where the government has reached such an oppressive level that it feels perfectly justified in taking my money without giving me anything in return. I can’t abide such an abusive relationship and will not tolerate it any longer. As beautiful as California is, it isn’t worth what it has come to cost to live here.
I truly hope that at some point the people will rise up and stop allowing the government to abuse them the way that it does…not with violence or rioting, but by voting the people who do these things out of office. The unfortunate truth is that the majority group tends to be the more quiet group because they have had things the way they want for a long time and they don’t really notice the small changes moving things against what they want until it’s too late. Until the oppression truly starts affecting their daily lives, they aren’t bothered enough to raise their voices in opposition. I believe that time is coming soon, but not soon enough for me. I will not stay to live under that sort of oppression.
Good luck, California. I wish you the best.
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