Sunday, April 17, 2011

His Life Was a Business Expense

From The New York Times Book Review:
Edmund Wilson was the leading literary critic of his generation. He was also an accomplished tax delinquent. From 1946 to 1955, Wilson did not file any income tax returns. Taxes were withheld from his salary at The New Yorker, but the proceeds from his best-selling novel “Memoirs of Hecate County” and other freelance work went to pay for his two divorces, three children and various houses. The Internal Revenue Service eventually caught up with him, hitting him with some $68,000 in back taxes and penalties. Even after his death in 1972, his wife was still dealing with the paperwork.

Wilson’s friend Arthur Schlesinger Jr. would later blame the mess on a “drunken lawyer.” But in “The Cold War and the Income Tax,” a blistering polemic published in 1963, Wilson saw more sinister forces at work. His own ordeal, he argued, was just one example of the “high tide of taxation” that was engulfing ordinary citizens and feeding our “frantic” nuclear rivalry with the Soviet Union. He was particularly irate about I.R.S. rules on deductions, which he deemed insensitive to writers. “It is difficult, at my time of life, to think of anything that I do or anywhere that I go which could not be called a business expense,” he wrote, sounding less like a lifelong man of the left than like Ron Paul. “It is an insufferable impertinence of the federal government to ask why I have entertained my guests or why I have chosen to travel--to say nothing of how many times I have been married, whom I have voted for and whether or not I buy my dog a bed.”
(Hat tip to Sarah Weinman.)

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