The Empty Threat

A number of years ago I was working as a manager for a computer company.  Every other Friday was payday and, since I had direct deposit, I seldom if ever bothered to look at my pay stub.

Well one Friday, I got a call from the payroll department.  Seems they had made a “slight” mistake with a decimal point.  Instead of getting my usual $1,350.00 deposited into my checking account, I got $1,350,000.00.  The CFO noticed the error almost immediately, but not before the checks were issued and the monies got deposited.

As I looked at my pay stub, I was stunned.  I had never seen that much money before, not without playing Monopoly.  Two things immediately struck me: The first was, Wow! That’s a sh*tload of money; the second was, Wow!  That’s a sh*tload of taxes.  Yes, back in those days, a check of that amount was taxed at 39.6%.  After subtracting federal, state and FICA – along with my 401k – my take-home pay was a paltry $678,000.  Almost 50% of that check went to taxes and / or retirement.  Even I couldn’t believe it.

Of course they corrected the error and by next Monday, I returned to my usual mild-mannered, overworked and underpaid position, with only a canceled check to remind me of how great it felt to walk among the millionaires, if only for a day or two.

Over the last eleven years, I have reflected on that moment many times.  While I have misplaced the check, I have never forgotten the feeling I had when I gazed at the amount of money I fleetingly possessed.

I think of all the things I could’ve done with $678,000.  My wife and I could’ve bought our house without a mortgage and put the rest of it into a retirement account, or a much better house than the one we currently live in.  We also could’ve put all of it into a retirement account and set ourselves up for what would’ve been the most glorious and comfortable golden years any retired couple could ask for.  Of course, we could’ve donated most, if not all, of it to charity and, in the process, brought a little relief to those who, through no fault of their own, couldn’t lift themselves up by their own bootstraps.  The possibilities seemed endless.

But the one thing I would not have done, and would never do, would be to have the gall to say that because the government took out almost 50% of that check in taxes, that I would refuse it, or that I would quit (as Bill O’Reilly had the nerve to say on his show the other day), or that if I didn’t quit I just wouldn’t work as hard as I had been, because, after all, what’s the point of working hard if the government gets to keep almost half of my earnings?

Because to say something that utterly stupid is insane.  Over the last decade I have had the good fortune to earn a respectable income.  And, in all those years, I still have not earned, collectively, what that one check represented.  Not even close!  And I have a message for the Bill O’Reillys out there.  Any time you’re feeling so repressed and burdened by your shackles that you just can’t bring yourselves to show up and collect your meager millions, just drop me a line.  I’ll be more than happy to relieve you of your burden.  In fact, we can trade places.  You can have my slightly lower tax rate and I’ll just have to rough it with your slightly higher one.  Deal?

Of all the hyperbole we have had to put up with from the Tea Party faction, none has been more ridiculous, or insulting, than the notion that taxing the rich an extra 3.6% would mean that they would pack it in and close up shop.  Truth is they aren’t going anywhere.  The reason rich people have so much money is because they are very good at making it and they have been for centuries.  They will do just fine with a slightly higher tax bracket and they know it, as does Bill O’Reilly.

Sadly, he isn’t going anywhere!