George Harrison’s “Taxman” Has Lessons for Us All

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
— Benjamin Franklin

I was in high school when The Beatles’ Revolver was released. There have been many arguments about whether Rubber Soul, Revolver or Sgt. Pepper was the Fab Four’s turning point, and Geoff Emerick makes a pretty strong case for Revolver.

The opening track is George Harrison’s Taxman, a song that one doesn’t fully appreciate when in high school. First off, how many of us were paying taxes in high school. And even if we were, how many were paying 95% of their income to the government.

Let me tell you how it will be
one for you, nineteen for me
’Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

That would be a 95% tax rate. This seems a bit unrealistic on the face of it. Only more recently, a half century later, did I learn how accurate this was.

Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don’t take it all
’Cause I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman

It was while reading Keith Richards’ Life that I discovered how fierce the British tax code had become. When the Stones were raking it in, especially on record sales royalties, they learned how harshly the rich were being penalized. I forget the precise tax rate on straight income — somewhere between 89 & 92 per cent — but the tax on royalties, essentially a success tax, was 95%, or “one for you, nineteen for me.”

How did the Rolling Stones respond? Well, do you remember where Exile on Main Street was recorded? Yep, in Southern France. The Stones fled the country, bought a mansion and there recorded what some have declared to be their best album.

Here’s my point. When politicians talk about giving away money for free college, free health care, etc. they imply that all these giveaways can be paid for by the rich. What will keep the wealthy from simply leaving town?

I personally know one Minnesota entrepreneur who succeeded in growing an Internet business and did become wealthy. He found Minnesota’s taxes to be excessive, so he moved to Florida.

I don’t think any reasonable person opposes taxes when they are reasonable. There are needs in our country which the government has a responsibility for, and someone has to pay for these services. Unfortunately, our bloated bureaucracies have become a baleful burden.

And so it goes…

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

And we’re not allowed to question whether government is behaving responsibly with what they take from us.

Don’t ask me what I want it for
If you don’t want to pay some more
’Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

Now, as I approach the end of my days I discover that Harrison’s song still speaks. Have you looked into how much it costs to bury a loved on lately?

Now my advice for those who die
Declare the pennies on your eyes
’Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
And you’re working for no one but me.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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