Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Cruellest Month

In his wonderful poem The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot dubbed April as the cruellest month, and this appellation has stuck. A much earlier English writer, Geoffrey Chaucer, said that April was the showery month when people began to wend their way towards Canterbury to seek the holy blissful martyr, St. Thomas a Becket. Not all of them, of course, were inspired by the highest motives, since in medieval times pilgrimages were for many the equivalent of modern business travel.
For us moderns, April is still the month when the major feasts of Christianity and Judaism are usually celebrated (sometimes they fall in March.) And for those of us in North America, it is indeed the cruellest month because it is when our tax returns are due for the previous year. Some of us, Americans and dual American and Canadian citizens, have the dubious honour of needing to prepare tax returns for both countries, an increasingly burdensome task. I mentioned to one friend who, like me, is in this situation, that tax preparation must be the modern equivalent of "hew wood, carry water." Buddhists (just to bring in another major religion) are known to say that before enlightenment life consists of "hew wood, carry water."
After enlightenment, life also consists of "hew wood, carry water."
Taxes affect not just how much of our incomes we get to keep for our own use, they also can have a large impact on travel costs. A travel blog in The Economist ( mentions that a recent survey of US cities showed how they stack up in terms of taxes levied on items specifically affecting travellers, not just general sales taxes. These are taxes on airports, rental cars, hotels and restaurants, etc.
All the best places were smaller jurisdictions in California, starting with Orange County and San Diego, and the worst five were Portland, Oregon; Boston, Minneapolis, New York and Chicago. I was surprised that New York was not at the top. The survey did not include European cities, but in Europe high Value Added Taxes in many places have a significant effect on travellers and locals alike.
There is no escaping taxes, so perhaps we should just bite the bullet and get busy with our pencils and calculators. At least that is what I plan to do today. Happy April, regardless of the tax hassles.


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