Tuesday, September 12, 2006

License Branch Philosophy

In my little corner of Paradise, license branches are open "late" (7 pm) on Tuesdays.

[Let me pause briefly here, just in case the term "license branch" isn't standard in the places where my readers live. Here in Hoosierland, a "license branch" is the annex of Purgatory where one does business with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. And now, back to our story.]

Recently, a guy I work with bought a new car -- madness, I tried to tell him, but he had the new-car fever and succumbed. Having taken possession of his new Hyundai Sonata, he turned his attention to getting rid of his previous ride: a base-model '92 Mercury Topaz with only 130K miles. When he let it slip that he would only be asking $500, my ears became active. I've known him the whole time he's had that car, and I know it hasn't had any significant issues and that he's taken care of it. And it gets much better fuel economy than does my '92 F150 longbed pickup. And, while gas is currently "clear down" in the mid $2.30s here, I know that as soon as mid-November rolls around, and the election is safely past, $3+ is coming back. So I talked him down to $450, and pulled the trigger on the deal. So, this evening after work, I'm waiting at the license branch. And waiting ... and waiting.

Now, I'm not going to make any of the standard cliche complaints about such places. In fact, I have generally found them to be at least semi-efficient, and the employees are frequently quite pleasant. After I'd waited the requisite (and quite ample) amount of time, my turn came, and the ridiculously-young lady who waited on me actually simulated interest in the book I was reading (an excellent biography of Isaac Newton by James Gleick). But while I was waiting, I spent only part of my time reading. I spent the balance of it brooding about taxes.

I paid my friend $450 for his car. The state of Indiana collected $22.50 from me, under an excuse called "sales tax." What was the state's justification for taking that money? Did they earn it, by facilitating the sale in some way? Of course not. The car was on the road last week, generating gasoline taxes and license-plate fees and county tax and "wheel tax" and so forth; and it will be on the same roads next week, doing the same thing -- only with a different person driving. And because this one change happens, Indiana gets $22.50.

Why?

Really, I think there's only one answer. It's the same as the answer to the classic (off-color -- sorry) question, "Why does a dog lick his balls?" ("Because he can.") They collect this tax simply because they want the money, and they have the power to get it. Remember the big, tough kid who took lunch money from the little, scared kid in grade school? Same deal. The little scared kid gives up his money because he knows if he doesn't, the big kid will pound him. And we pay some of these least-rational taxes for the same reason -- the government will put us in jail if we don't.

'Way back in feudal times, the dirt-scratching peasants used to pay the nobles and royalty various sorts of tribute because of a vague notion that those noble folk were semi-divine and, in some sense, owned the peasants, along with the dirt they scratched. In 1781, we Americans got rid of the king, finally, at Yorktown. But I think the peasant lives on in us, because it seems that we didn't waste much time in replacing him with the "democratic" equivalent. I wonder if we're just not happy without an owner of some sort. We complain ritually ... but we always seem to have someone telling us what to do, and when, and how much.

We must be the enemy. We're terrorists! We hate our freedoms.

1 comment:

pam said...

I should send my husband over here to read this. But then I'd have to listen to him cuss about car taxes for the next several days. (We have to pay taxes on our vehicles every year here in Kansas). We had to pay sales tax when we brought vehicles into Kansas. Vehicles that were purchased in Texas.

It has taken my husband years to figure this out...but when he votes for politicians that promise payroll tax cuts...all the other taxes go up. But that politican gets to (somewhat truthfully) say he cut taxes when he runs for re-election!