It’s the right season for both, but some gifts are better left unopened and returned to the sender.

It’s beautiful to be trusted by someone who’s never seen you before. In some cases, it’s almost better than receiving a gift.

Many years ago, my wife and I went for dinner to a well-known pizzeria in New York, John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street. It was a very simple no-reservations place in the Village, and to eat you always had to spend at least half hour on line outside. I don’t remember what time of the year it was, but after having some slices with a few glasses of Chianti we get the check ($35 or so) and are kindly told by the owner that credit cards are not accepted. When he notices our dismay (I had no cash) he quickly adds “Never mind; don’t worry, you’ll pay me the next time.” The next time we paid our debt and remained faithful clients for decades.

A few days ago in Zurich, a friend of mine went into a jewelry store with his wife to get a brooch pin fixed; as they waited for an estimate, my friend asked to see a watch and then decided to buy it. The salesperson inputs the wrong price in the credit card machine; she nullifies the transaction but after re-entering the correct price the card is rejected. “Don’t worry,” she said, “take the watch with you and I’ll give you a payment slip so you can send us the money whenever you have time.” My friend paid two days later; he is the only person I know to walk out of a store with unpaid merchandize worth about $8,000 (and without triggering anti-theft systems).

There are times when certain gestures or gifts, if you will, from higher authorities are not in the end what they seem. Because for me the beauty of trust and giving is in the fairness of the gesture, the pleasure both parties feel about the event and its usefulness. If you look at the current estimated impact of the Trump tax cuts (Figure 1) it seems all three elements are missing.

Figure 1

On the fairness issue I come out short of ideas on how one can possibly justify giving the biggest cut to the top 1% of earners. Then if you think of pleasure, assuming a government can possibly feel any, I am not sure all taxpayers in all income brackets can be satisfied after noticing what’s happening around them. And as to the usefulness of a tax cut in today’s conditions, the issue is hotly debated, but if you take away Art Laffer and a few of his acolytes I think the verdict is not positive.

I’m no left leaning protester or closet Marxist, but I do consider the income redistribution issue a serious and explosive one. While I don’t think fiscal policy is necessarily the best way to approach it, I certainly don’t believe any benefits will come from pouring salt on open wounds. Sent the tax package back to where it came from. Unopened.

-Photo Sources-
Cover: Frank Stella, “The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II”, 1959; The Museum of Modern Art, New York;
Figure 1: The Wall Street Journal, December 3 2016.