Monday, February 25, 2013

Song Lyric of the Day (George Harrison, on ‘The Taxman’)

“Let me tell you how it will be
There's one for you, nineteen for me
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman.”—George Harrison, “Taxman,” from the Beatles’ Revolver LP (1966)

This post represents a holy grail for a blogger—a twofer! "Taxman" was not George Harrison’s best song, nor even his first recorded one (that would be “Don’t Bother Me,” which, come to think of it, might have served as an equally good title for this one). But it did serve notice that the “quiet one” of the Beatles had a sly sense of humor. 

The Beatles’ great lead guitarist—and, as fans (and even principal songsmiths John and Paul) learned, their secret songwriting talent—and the youngest of the Fab Four would have turned 70 today.

(One irony of this song: While George wrote the song, Paul played the lead-guitar solo. An interesting change of roles, no?)

Okay, here’s the second part of the twofer I just referred to: it’s also the centennial of the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—one of four passed during the Progressive Era, with this one instituting a federal tax on incomes. It was pushed originally as a matter of social equity by farmers and others who had suffered disproportionately from the federal government’s principal means of raising revenues to that time: the tariff. As Jay Starkman noted in a Wall Street Journal piece a few weeks ago, only one-third of the U.S. population earned enough to be subject to the income tax before WWII. Matters have changed utterly since then, of course, with seven out of 10 Americans now subject to the tax—and the long shadow of the IRS.

The situation was even worse in the U.K. when the Beatles shot to fame. As Harrison recalled it nearly three decades later for the Beatles’ Anthology retrospective: “In those days we paid 19 shillings and sixpence [96p] out of every pound, and with supertax and surtax and tax-tax it was ridiculous - a heavy penalty to pay for making money. That was a big turn-off for Britain. Anybody who ever made any money moved to America or somewhere else.”

Somebody should replay Harrison’s comments—and his song—for the benefit of The New York Times, which published James B. Stewart’s “The Myth of the Rich Who Flee From Taxes.” I’m as populist as the next guy, but the experience of Harrison, the Rolling Stones, Gerard Depardieu, and Phil Mickelson (and a whole swath of the PGA, who’ve moved en masse to tax-friendly Florida) constitutes far more than “anecdotal evidence” in support of the “myth.”

(The photo accompanying this post is a cropped version of a UPI image of Harrison, as the Beatles arrived in New York in 1964.)

No comments: