Beating the tax man is the national pastime of the wealthy

August 15, 2012

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s recent column expressed the common view that most Greeks don't value "enterprise" because they've become dependent on overly generous government benefits that have ruined their economy ("America isn't Greece — at least not yet," Aug. 12). Yet I have struggled to reconcile the idea of the lavish public pensions he talks about with the images of newly homeless Greek pensioners picking through garbage for food as a result of EU-imposed austerity measures. Something seemed amiss.¿¿

The Greek government's financial problems come down to one thing: Tax evasion. James Surowiecki wrote in the New Yorker magazine that Greece's financial woes are due to the simple fact that "tax evasion is the national pastime." IMF head, Christine Lagarde said as much in a blunt May 2012 interview with The Guardian newspaper.

In that context, I do see a danger of America becoming Greece. Many of our most privileged already see beating the tax man by any means possible, no matter how unseemly, as more than acceptable. Mitt Romney would even have us believe that this is something to be admired.

But the "paying taxes is for chumps" attitude is dangerous. Voluntary tax compliance has been a bedrock of the modern American economic system. And we are putting that voluntary compliance in jeopardy as ordinary Americans see the ways the wealthiest can and do game the system.

Let's not become Greece, Mr. Ehrlich. Everyone needs to pay their fair share of taxes.

Bill Adams, Ellicott City

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