My Name is Earl, tax edition

My Name is Earl was a show I liked to watch from time to time. Episode 17 of season 1 was one of my favourites, because Earl Hickey made a transformation that I wish many people would make. The episode is called Didn’t Pay my Taxes.

The episode starts with Earl realizing that he needed to add “cheated the government” to his list. That he needed to pay the government the taxes he owes them. Randy says “What for? Government doesn’t do anything for us….” The episode revolves around Earl’s many attempts to pay his taxes only to be confronted by rules and bureaucratic red tape. In essence, the government did not have a record of him owing taxes so they would not accept his payment.

Earl decides that to pay the money back, he will incur a fine for trespassing that accords with the amount he owes in taxes. That way there is a record of his debt and the government will take his money. As a result of his trespassing, Earl and Randy get stuck in an abandoned water tower. Earl blames the government for him and Randy getting stuck in the tower

“Stupid government. They think I’m bad. They’re the ones who are bad, Randy. The tax woman who wouldn’t take my money. The cop who wouldn’t let me fix the pothole. The guard who threw me in solitary. I never want to pay them back. Screw the government. They never did anything for us”.

But just then a voice shouts into the tower “Hello you guys alright down there?”

It turned out the government had been busy doing something for them but they just did not know it. Willie the mailman brought Joy a letter saying Earl’s car was towed to the impound yard. Then when Joy came to the motel to yell at Earl for not changing his address, Catalina saw that Earl’s car had been impounded. She got worried because she hadn’t seen Earl and Randy for days. So she reported it to a police man. He went and filed a missing persons report then went down the impound yard to investigate. When the police found where Earl’s car had been towed from, they got suspicious and called a city worker to come unlock the gate. And when the city worker saw that Earl’s and Randy’s ropes were tied to the top of the tower they called the fire department for help.

And that’s when Earl realized that maybe the government doesn’t always see people as bad or good. Sometimes it just sees people that need help. And even if you don’t see the government working for you every day, it is  out there working for somebody. And that day that somebody was Earl and Randy.

Earl happily paid the $500 fine for trespassing but then learned it cost the government $4000 to rescue him. He tried to pay them, but the government would not take the money. Earl says “Turns out being saved by the government is free to taxpayers. Taxpayers like me”.

My point here is that tax evasion means you are stealing, you are getting stuff for free. From running water, to roads, even peace, order, and good government. Your tax money goes to things you use, things you might need to use even though you might not think it, and things other people desperately need and from which we all benefit.

Yes, some of our hard earned money is wasted by those in the legislature and parliament. That is not sufficient reason to engage in tax evasion. Tax evasion is illegal and the penalties for doing so are rightfully high and may even include prison time. Consider the case of Ty Warner, who plead guilty to hiding more than $100M in an offshore account. He paid a $53M penalty and at least $16M in back taxes and interest. In addition, he now now faces 57 months in jail, but is begging the judge to not put him behind bars, believing he should be let off easy because he paid back the taxes owed and because he had ‘a rough childhood’. I believe many people currently in prison could argue the same. I have no sympathy for Ty Warner and other evaders and neither should you.

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