Review of Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud To Pay Taxes by Vanessa S. Williamson.

Vanessa S. Williamson explains in her new book why Americans are proud to pay taxes. Mainly, they “continue to see taxpaying as an emblem of civic virtue” because “taxpaying allows us to demonstrate our commitment to the community and to the country”. As her interview results show, “Americans are uncertain about how to balance the ideal of civic equality with the reality of economic inequality and weigh competing ideas about how wealth relates to work effort." Overall, “many Americans see it as a badge of pride.”

In an objective, evidence-based research on the subject, the author both reveals new information and clarifies where the misunderstandings happen. A summary of the interviews is presented and fully analyzed in the form of charts. Direct individual quotes are available in the appendix of the book. Despite the common misconceptions, “almost literally every adult in the United States is a taxpayer". What is the reason that we think otherwise? “Part of the misunderstanding stems from the taxpaying process: payroll taxes and sales taxes are easy to pay, and therefore easy to underestimate. Income taxes are a hassle, and so are prominent in Americans’ thinking about taxes " Most people “underestimate their payroll taxes, fail to recognize the cost of the sales tax for poor people, and overestimate their income taxes." This inaccuracy combined with the perception that the number of notices that get mailed is extreme leads to the possible conclusion that those “who describe the IRS as draconian have had no personal experience with the agency at all.”

“Taxpaying is like keeping “your stuff maintained”” to some. Opinions on where and how effectively the taxes then get spent vary. It is important to distinguish “waste from inefficiency”. The overall attitude “ about government spending” is “shaped by, first, a preference for spending close to home”. In general, “Americans approve of local and visible spending.” They “opt for progressive taxation over a flat tax”. This “comes from interviewees who wish to reduce economic inequality".

If the cover title that somewhat resembles a haiku poem doesn't intrigue you about this book, I would still recommend it. It is a rare work on the subject, relevant in our time as it sheds some light on how a lack of understanding can create the “anti” feelings, whether anti-rich or anti-tax. I wish it was around when I was studying for the Masters in Taxation. Williamson is correct in her conclusion that “taxation is an extremely broad and extremely detailed subject of study" and published a useful tool to help everyone understand it better.

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