Today is Tax Day in the United States. I know, I know. April 15 is the actual due date for individual taxes. But for whatever reason, this year taxes are due today. And how can I let a Tax Day pass without some thoughts on taxes, popular culture and being a lawyer?
I would be remiss if I did not mention that, while lawyers “tend” to be somewhat more liberal than conservative as a profession, (see data from The Political Ideologies of American Lawyers), like most people, we don’t really like paying taxes. But, as licensed professionals, we did take an oath swearing that we “will support the Constitution of the United States and that of the state of Minnesota.” And it is pretty much settled law (for most of us at least) that both the state and the federal government have the authority to levy and collect taxes. Without taxes, there would be no way for the government (including the courts) to function. But like I said, no one really likes the act of paying taxes, even if we know both personally and professionally that they are a necessary component of a functioning society.
But to find really interesting popular culture considering taxes, we need to go back a few years.
In song, we must consider the Beatles' 1966 Taxman. George Harrison’s lyrics indict England’s tax system hilariously:
If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet
In a counter position, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 anti-wealth anthem Fortunate Son casts the tax collector as the good guy.
And it is not just in song that taxes and the Internal Revenue Service, the agency to collects taxes, are celebrated or maligned. No blog about taxes would be complete without mentioning the role the IRS and taxes (or the failure to pay them) have played in capturing some of this nation’s most notorious criminals. Brian De Palma’s 1987 crime drama The Untouchables pits Robert De Niro’s Al Capone against Kevin Costner’s “Prohibition Agent” Elliot Ness. While the film celebrates Ness’s pursuit of Capone, it was IRS agent Frank Wilson (not in the film) who investigated Capone for tax evasion. The only crime Capone was ever convicted of was tax evasion!
So as we all rush to file our taxes, let’s remember that while taxes may not be our friend, they are necessary to fund the system of justice in which we practice law. Besides, some very interesting songs and films exist that consider the tax man and his/her role in our lives.