Most asinine Beatles song ever?

>> Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On the way in this morning, Andrew Loog Oldham followed up Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing" with The Beatles' "Taxman", which was cute. Thieves and thieves, we get it, nice associative pairing. That's why I like satellite radio, y'know, because most of the DJs and their programmers still get to do that sort of thing, whereas any station with a broadcast range wider than a few yards usually can't because they're all owned by Clear Channel now, right?







Thing is, I couldn't help thinking as I was listening to it today what a prissy little hissy fit the song is. Okay, yes, it's a totally kickass hook and Harrison's McCartney's little solo is pretty awesome, and the wordplay is adorable ("If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet"--no surprise that John Lennon gave Harrison some "advice" on the song, so to speak).

But these guys pretty much grew up on public assistance, y'know? Harrison's family lived in a council house when he was a kid and he was educated in state-funded schools. I don't know if Harrison or any of his bandmates were actually on the dole at any point when they were dividing their time between Liverpool and Hamburg, but it seems pretty likely, doesn't it? How did they think the Commonwealth's social safety net was being funded? Well, they didn't, they were just musicians, not until they got billed for it.

In all fairness, the Wikipedia entry for "Taxman" quotes John Lennon as saying "I didn't want to do it..." in reference to helping Harrison on the tune; it's hard to tell, though, whether he's referring to realizing the song was biting a hand that fed them or whether he had mixed feelings about Harrison emerging as a songwriter in his own right. (Lennon added, "I just sort of bit my tongue and said OK. It had been John and Paul for so long, he'd been left out because he hadn't been a songwriter up until then.") But otherwise, it was like this great heaping shock that civilization has to be paid for.

So, okay, a 95% tax bracket maybe seems a little excessive; there was a lot of talk in the '60s and '70s about a British brain drain, and a lot of wealthy Brits did end up spending at least some time abroad for tax reasons (though it also appears there was evidently little analysis at the time of whether the drain was occurring, the extent of it if it was, or the permanence; much of the concern over brain drain seems to have been Labour and Conservative politicians and pundits accusing the other side of causing it and/or making promises to fix it (PDF link)). But it has to be noted that when The Beatles were poor, working class musicians, they weren't paying 95%, nor would they have been doing so if they'd been modestly successful, able-to-quit-the-day-job working musicians riding around England in a little tourbus; they were hit with the 95% tax rate because they were The Fucking Beatles, producers of hit singles and albums that flew off store shelves, world tourists playing sold-out gigs on multiple continents, movie stars, and licensors of Fab-Four-ulous tie-ins--lunch boxes, dolls, drinking glasses, posters, articles of clothing, widgets, winkles, doohickeys and whatsits.

So they were young men and all, and hopefully they wised up a bit. Oliver Wendell Holmes is credited with saying he liked taxes because he bought civilization with them; he may have been lying about the first bit--I don't know if anyone really likes paying taxes. But they aren't a form of theft, they're the passing around of the plate so we can have nice things like roads and schools and affordable public housing so that people don't have to live in tarpaper shacks beneath highway underpasses. Taxes create a society that offers some kid an opportunity to sneer at his parents and learn how to play guitar; I wonder how far along Mr. Harrison might have gotten if his parents had been forced to sell him to a mill when he was five so that daddy wouldn't have to go to debtors' prison this week.

I doubt I'll ever be wealthy enough to be in a 95% tax bracket should the United States ever do the smart and moral thing and abolish our obscenely low tax rates, but if I am: I welcome it. It means I've benefited from this society enough that I owe it something for my liberty and opportunity.

Still, dumb kids being selfish hypocrites in their youth or not: bitchin' guitars on that song, George Paul.




9 comments:

Warner Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 1:51:00 PM EDT  

An amazing number of people do not realize that the US taxes are graduated.

I explained this a couple of days ago to somebody and they went from being totally against a 35% bracket to thinking it wasn't high enough.

Eric Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 3:16:00 PM EDT  

Sadly, the same person probably doesn't realize popular right wing "fair tax" proposals like a national sales tax or the "flat tax" are regressive and therefore place disproportionate burdens on the poor. He or she probably also doesn't understand that when the American right tsks about Americans not paying taxes, they're invariably talking about those Americans who are so poor that they get full refunds on any paycheck withholdings they may have had, not about those American entities who take in billions of dollars a year but manage to offload their tax liability in various legal and quasi-legal ways.

::sigh:: I fear for my country.

Seth Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 5:59:00 PM EDT  

I don't think we even need to go back to a 90%+ tax bracket to achieve more budget rationality without destroying our modest safety net for the elderly. What was so terrible about the Clinton-level top bracket, which was still below 50%? It's not an either-or. We don't have to go all the way up to a level that might, conceivably, be punitive and drive people from the country. (To the degree that that's a real problem.)

Eric Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 6:24:00 PM EDT  

Seth, I agree, actually. I don't see 90% happening for all sorts of reasons. But, as you point out, the country prospered during the Clinton years, "despite" higher tax brackets than we have now.

The odds of taxes being raised--or of existing tax cuts being allowed to expire, which we treat as the same thing, though they're not, precisely, the same thing--are slim to none in the current political climate. Which is unfortunate, to say the least: we can't have nice things if we're not willing to pay for them, and it's just that simple.

Seth Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 6:43:00 PM EDT  

Hey, speaking of allowing things to expire, did you ever read this intriguing article from Slate about the "do-nothing" plan to eliminate the deficit? It's pretty much what you'd expect -- mainly, let the Bush-era tax cuts expire -- but there were also some things I found surprising. E.g.,

"[D]oing nothing would mean that Medicare starts paying doctors low, low rates. Congress would not pass anymore of the regular 'doc fixes' that keep reimbursements high."

I did not know, before reading that article, that that was a thing.

Warner Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 10:26:00 AM EDT  

91% occurred because there was a very expensive war going on.

I think that ended prior to Eisenhower leaving office.

I don't think it can be a return to as low as the Clinton era rates, simply because these wars have to be pair for. Bush did what LBJ did before him, but you can't have both guns and butter.

The far right also tsks about the fact that the lower income citizens actually can get money back from the IRS that was never paid into it. This is support mostly for children.

Somebody at some very low multiple of the poverty rate, perhaps 2, should not be paying taxes. I might except FICA and Medicare.

The Bush cuts saved me several thousand a year, I thought they were wrong then and still do.

timb111 Friday, July 1, 2011 at 11:21:00 AM EDT  

I just brought mt latest grandson home from the hospital yesterday. He spent a month in ICU. His next oldest brothers spent almost three months in ICU after an operation. I'm glad for Canada's higher taxes because my daughter doesn't have to worry a bit about any of that, only the health of her kids.

And speaking of death panels, the same care goes to the most deformed & mentally challenged babies as well, no thought of not providing the same level of care, ever, no matter what the income level of the parents. I think that's what living together in a society should mean.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden Saturday, July 2, 2011 at 7:09:00 AM EDT  

In fact, the terrific guitar solo on "Taxman" was played by Paul McCartney.

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