By Elizabeth Anne Hull
Tax season is a good time to assess your net worth.
Recently, I read that over half of the members of Congress of both houses are millionaires, which implies that they’re rich and so cannot possibly understand the problems of the average person, much less those living below the poverty line.
Perhaps. I’m not quite ready to believe that of all of them, because it depends on how you define millionaire. High net worth is not the same thing as high annual income.
According to the traditional definition, you’re a millionaire if you have a net worth of $1,000,000 or more — not including the value of your home. More recently, however, that term has been used to describe $1 million in annual income, which makes more sense today.
Annual income often is a great deal less than $1 million for “millionaires” whose net worth is above that figure. A net worth of $1 million isn’t far out of reach of upper middle-income Americans (as shrinking as that group is). Those who are lucky enough to hang on to a good job, who save regularly, invest wisely, live frugally, don’t run up their credit, live in a house that’s much less valuable than they could afford, drive a car for as long as they can, and teach their children to have modest tastes as well, may amass at least $1 million, maybe even several millions in net worth, while having an income under $100,000 annually.
Taxes on that income are divided in two different ways: Taxes as a percentage of overall income, and types of tax per types of income.
For example, FICA taxes — the ones that fund Social Security for the elderly and disabled — are paid by every wage earner (unless they’re covered by a state pension system that usually costs those individuals more than the tax would). Minimum-wage earners pay the highest percentage of their earnings for FICA. Those making over $113,000 per year don’t pay FICA on any amount above that, and they pay it only on earned income, not on capital gains or interest income, which for people in those brackets may be considerable. Thus, while everyone who earns any wages at all pays FICA, those taxes are definitely not flat; they are regressive: the percentage paid by people who earn $1 million a year is definitely less than the percentage paid by minimum-wage earners.
The next most common type of tax is income taxes, which are progressive, to an extent. That is, if all or most of your income comes from wages or salaries, you’ll pay a gradually higher tax the higher your tax bracket is, up to a current cap of 36 percent for the highest earners. But of course, there are loopholes and tax shelters and other ways that the rich can pay less.
It’s likely that you’ll pay other taxes as well, a few at a considerably higher rate, more at a lower rate, such as capital gains. And if you are lucky enough to be a property owner, you will also pay real-estate taxes (although landlords pass along these costs to tenants), which can vary widely across the country.
Most states also have a state income tax. Only a few states don’t have sales taxes, another regressive tax (and no tax at all to companies, which can deduct them as a cost of doing business).
Hence, the aphorism that nothing is inevitable except death and taxes.
Trying to agree on a fair assessment of taxes would be difficult enough if we only had to deal with humans, but in the 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5/4 split decision along party lines, ruled that corporations are people, and that money is equivalent to speech. Thus under the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, corporations have the right to donate — in secret through 501(c)(4) PACs — to lobbying efforts and not pay taxes on that income.
(The Supreme Court has been silent about the death penalty or even prison for corporate officers when the corporations commit crimes, including causing the deaths of people. They can be sued, but the corporations — or their insurance companies — can reach a monetary “settlement” out of court when they believe they’ll lose or, as they claim, just to avoid the time and cost of defending their innocence or nonculpability.)
Thus we have some very large, mega-billion-dollar corporations paying virtually no taxes, while humans in this country, even the poorest, all pay taxes, one way or another.
Somehow, being a simple millionaire (by the old definition) doesn’t seem to be much of a big deal these days, does it?
A book tour is wearing enough all by itself. I didn’t need any extra aggravation.
My very first radio show of the tour was on a nighttime program on WGN in Chicago, which also broadcasts the Cubs games. Sure enough, that night the Cubs and the Phillies tied it up in the eighth and went into extra innings. The Cubs managed to lose it in the thirteenth, all right, but by then the airtime for the show was long gone by. So I sat in the studio for a few boring hours and then went home. We never did get on that night.
Then we took to the road, and it was Wednesday, Washington; Thursday, Detroit; Friday, Cleveland — and Saturday, still Cleveland, because the Harmonic Convergence was nigh. It caused all its thunderclouds to converge right over O’Hare airport (so all flights were canceled and I spent the night in a Cleveland Holiday Inn). Then it dumped all the moisture out of those clouds right on my house, a dozen miles from O’Hare (so some books and papers that were stored low-down in my basement were rebound in slime). Nine and a half inches of rain in twelve hours.
It was the worst rainstorm in the history of Chicago, and it was all my own fault, of course. I didn’t remember to say, “ooooom.”
Nor was that the worst of it.
See, I live a pretty sheltered life. I spend most of my time either sitting before the keyboard in my office or in the company of my peers at science-fiction cons. So, although I’ve met a lot of pretty weird people (well, didn’t I just say that?), until this tour I actually hadn’t reckoned on the number of loopies going around in what is, for some reason, called the “normal” world. Every city I visited turned up somebody — my airhead driver-escort in one place, a guy who buttonholed me at the hotel registration desk in another — who was not only certain that the Age of Something was upon us because of the Harmonic Convergence, but could not be stopped from telling me about it.
I don’t like to get into conversations of that kind. The principal reason is that I’m tenderhearted; I don’t like to be a killjoy. It gives me no pleasure to try to convince a transcendental metaphysics addict that astrology is a fraud; Uri Geller is a faker; there were no Ancient Astronauts and every single flying-saucer story I have been able to investigate (which adds up to a lot of them, over the years) has turned out to be a mistake, a delusion or a plain damn lie.
But I don’t have any moral objections to someone else’s beliefs. If it gives them pleasure to have their horoscopes, tarot cards or palms read, why should I object?
So I dislike arguing any subject with a True Believer, but what I dislike even more is sitting silent while I am told that unless I believe in some preposterous fantasy I have doomed my hopes of achieving the Age of Enlightenment, or my aura, or my soul. Probably I should appreciate their concern for my welfare, but the fact is that I don’t.
So after the first few mad dashes from radio station to newspaper office in the company of my temporary in-house guru, I stopped trying to change the subject. I took the bit in my teeth and did my best to explain to the airhead that, see, there are only a certain number of long-distance forces that can allow an extraterrestrial body to influence anything on our planet — electromagnetic and gravitational just about wraps it up — and, really, neither one of them has anything to do with whether or not people on Earth start thinking pure thoughts.
This was a mistake. She was a tender-hearted soul, too. She could not bear to see me lost through all eternity because of my pitiful ignorance, and so all the rest of that long day, until finally she let me out at the airport and my ears began to stop throbbing, I heard why the Grand Canyon, Mount Shasta and the corner of 83d Street and Central Park West in New York were “power points” for the universal energies, and how, if I had any sense at all, I would change my ticket and head for the “planetary Woodstock” at one of them right away.
I argued for a while. Then, when the intensity of her convictions led her to run a red light in heavy traffic, I finally shut up and just let her talk.
Honestly, that was one painful day.
She was the worst, if for no other reason than simply because I had no way of getting away from her until it was time for my flight. She wasn’t the only one, though. Fortunately, most of the other harmonicists I ran into were of the tolerable kind who are at least willing to give up about it when I said I’m wasn’t interested.
Not the chap in the hotel lobby.
To be continued.
An earlier version of this article appeared in Science Fiction Chronicle in 1988.
Man Bites Dog?
By Elizabeth Anne Hull
As you probably know, the “glass ceiling” has suffered yet another crack, as Janet Yellen has started work as the first woman to head the Federal Reserve Bank. That means that the two most significant leadership positions in global money are both occupied (word chosen carefully) by women. (The other is the International Monetary Fund, helmed by Christine Lagarde.)
As the grandmother of a female commercial pilot (the first of either gender that I know of in our family), I follow “firsts” for women with special interest. So I noticed another news item that may not have hit everyone’s radar: Yellen’s husband, George Akerlof, himself a Nobel prize winner in economics, stepped down as a member of the advisory board of the UBS International Center of Economics in Society at the University of Zurich.
Even though he wasn’t paid for being on the advisory board and there was no conflict of interest, he wanted to “avoid even the appearance of conflict,” Akerlof said. UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, operates an investment-banking business in the U.S. and is therefore regulated by the Fed.
By Elizabeth Anne Hull
Plans are under way for a celebration in memory of Fred, to be held August 2, 2014, at the Wojcik Conference Center at William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Illinois.
Please save the date and join us if you can. If you’d like to participate in the program, please let me know as soon as possible.
In future, I’ll be posting more details about the program, as well as suggestions for accommodations for out-of-towners and other activities in conjunction with this event.
From the blog team:
We’re thrilled to tell you that Fred’s novel Gateway may soon be on your TV screen.
Entertainment One Television (Hell on Wheels) in collaboration with De Laurentiis Co. (Dune< and Hannibal) plan to develop and produce a TV drama series adapted from the book, which was one of Fred’s favorites, and a winner of the 1978 Hugo Award for Best Novel, the 1978 Locus Award for Best Novel, the 1977 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 1978 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science-fiction novel.
The two companies were the winners of an auction with a number of producers bidding on the the screen rights to the novel. Martha De Laurentiis and Lorenzo De Maio of De Laurentiis will be the executive producers, along with eOne TV’s John Morayniss, CEO; Michael Rosenberg, executive VP of U.S. scripted TV; and Benedict Carver, senior VP of filmed entertainment. They’re now looking for a writer to do the screenplay adaptation, so interested sf writers with TV experience should contact them.
Some of you will wonder — yes, Fred knew this was coming together before he died.