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I also benefit from another huge loophole in the tax code: the exemption for 401(k)s and other savings plans, which costs the Treasury $138 billion a year. Every $500 I save for retirement depletes the Treasury of about $135 it would otherwise take from me in taxes. Yes, there is a legitimate policy interest in promoting saving, but this is another example of the tax code incentivizing people with money to do things they would have done anyway, like own a home, buy health insurance or hire a nanny. Investors and financiers also enjoy huge tax advantages like Wall Street's $1 billion to $2 billion carried-interest loophole, which keeps hedge-fund managers' taxes at janitor levels.
But my sweetest tax advantage does not come from being a homeowner, a patient or a saver. It comes from being a kinda-sorta businessman. If you make decent money and you're not deducting business expenses, get an accountant--which, incidentally, is also tax-deductible. On my tax forms, I'm not just a dude at a magazine. I'm also an "author, lecturer," which lets me slice some personal business expenses off the top of my income. I'm conservative about deductions--nothing to see here, IRS!--but my accountant says those business-ish lunches with my work-related pals are partly deductible. So are most books I buy, 17% of my utility bills--my home office is 17% of our home--and some of my travel. I don't know how much I'll deduct from my trip to San Francisco for my brother's wedding, but it won't be nothing, because I did some book interviews while I was there.
The business community frequently complains about taxes, but the tax code turns out to be cluttered with probusiness incentives. In fact, as we discovered when Cristina opened a retail store just as the recession hit, the only thing that's more advantageous for tax purposes than opening a business is opening a failing business. When the store lost money during the Great Recession, the losses helped reduce our tax liability by more than half. We learned an expensive lesson in entrepreneurial risk taking, but Uncle Sam made it much less expensive.
6 p.m.: Even the electronic babysitter is subsidized
The workday ends. Cristina drives home, past a $49 million federally funded rail tunnel, and gets cash from our bank, which was bailed out to the tune of $45 billion by the U.S. government. Our nanny takes a public bus home. Then it's another hour of gymnastics, charades and other unsubsidized fun before we deposit the kids in front of the TV--not to watch mindless crap, because we would never tranquilize them that way, but to watch worthy programs like Dinosaur Train and Sid the Science Kid that tend to be supported by federal grants. It's a much better way to tranquilize them.