Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Taxation and Representation

One of the major complaints the American colonists had against England was that, while they had to pay taxes, they had no representation in Parliament. After the American Revolution male property owners could vote, and the franchise has gradually extended since then until any citizen can vote after his or her eighteenth birthday. A friend's child once asked me why children couldn't vote (I think he was about ten at the time), and I handed him the sample ballot for the upcoming election. After he looked at several pages of candidates and propositions, followed a lot more pages describing the issues, the arguments for and against, and the complete text of the proposed laws, he handed it back, saying that he was glad he didn't have to vote.

Of course, now that we can vote, I feel strongly that we have the obligation to do so responsibly (despite all of the campaign ads designed to make us turn off our brains and vote the way the advertiser wants us to). I was on a panel at a science-fiction convention some years ago, and one of my fellow panelists was railing indignantly about mindless voting. He demanded of the room at large: "How many of you read the materials the Secretary of State sends out?" The majority of the people promptly raised their hands, so I guess he was preaching to the choir.

But there is still one place where writers are taxed with no representation: other countries. A lot of them, such as England and Germany, have tax treaties with the US, so we don't have to pay tax on our sales there. Brazil, on the other hand, charges so much that when I was working for Marion Zimmer Bradley I said she should be allowed to vote there, while my co-worker Raul said they should at least name a tank after her. And last week her Trust got a check for a Chinese edition of MISTS OF AVALON, with a charge of 15.6% for tax.

I'm not saying that writers should have the right to vote in other countries; even in cases where we can read the language, we don't know the issues and most of them have no direct effect on our lives. And there's a Foreign Tax Credit on our tax return, so we're not really losing the money. It just struck me when I saw that check stub that we are, in a very minor way, back in the situation that America's founders fought against.