I'm A Business, Man

In hundreds of years I hope to God that old PowerPoint clipart like this isn't considered art.

Throughout college I always talked about business majors in more or less the same way I talk about the state of Florida – a catch-all punchline to whatever derisive, snotty joke needs one. Some of my best friends were business majors, as was my father, but I’m not going to let a few good apples spoil a perfectly good opportunity to crack jokes about the legions of Axe-scented, wide brimmed baseball cap-wearing, this video appearing-in bros who made up the business program at the University of Oregon – no more than a business major would miss out on an opportunity to crack open a tall boy of Keystone at 9:30 AM.

Maybe I mocked business students because their course of study was intimidating to me. My major required me to write about stuff, which coincidentally is the only thing I’m capable of doing correctly more than 60% of the time. Business majors, on the other hand, had to learn about personnel management, micro and macroeconomics, and some form of calculus – I don’t even really know what calculus is, much less how to do it. Let’s face it: I’m about as well suited to run a business as your garden variety Floridian is to run up a staircase without having a heart attack.

So imagine my shock when I received a terse letter from the City of Los Angeles informing me that I owed them a few hundred dollars in business taxes. I’m still technically a freelancer at my agency – I’m on the books as an independent contractor (albeit one who comes in every day) and as far as the city is concerned, that means I’m running a business within city limits and have to be taxed as such.

I’m not incorporated. I don’t have an office. I don’t have employees. I don’t have a working printer.* I don’t even sell products. My entire business model is that I go to one specific ad agency five days a week to write things for them, they pay me, and then I take that money and invest it in Indian lunch buffets and wireless lightbulbs.

*This is code for, “I lost all of the necessary wires to connect my printer to my laptop, so now it’s just decorative.”

But I guess as far as the city is concerned, I’m the product that my business sells. And my business doesn’t have a name besides my own. Come to think of it, I don’t own a business – I am a business.

There’s been pretty widespread agreement that corporations aren’t people – so shouldn’t that be a two-way street?

I wouldn’t mind that much if being a business was somehow cool. Businesses get to do lots of stuff ordinary people can’t, like buy members of Congress and commit blatant fraud without any type of punishment. Hell, a lot of businesses get to pay fewer taxes – just ask Facebook and Bank of America. I, on the other hand, get all the worst parts of being a human and a business, at least until I can afford a corporate jet to write off or a hot secretary to have an affair with.

What makes this really sting is that I didn’t even want to become a business. It happened to me accidentally – I didn’t ask for this! I’m kind of like Peter Parker, except instead of being bitten by a radioactive spider and becoming Spider Man I just filled out a radioactive 1099 form and became Business Man, with the power to incur additional tax liability based on poorly written city ordinances. With great power comes great tax responsibility.

The accounting department at work pointed out to me that the best way for me to stop being a business and become a human again is to move to Burbank, which is not a part of the City of Los Angeles and thus would mean I wouldn’t get taxed for any ‘business’ I do there. Burbank, for those of you who don’t know, has the same bustling nightlife and social scene as Salem, Oregon, but with more expensive parking.  

I really don’t want to become a tax refugee, because that’s the sort of shit Mitt Romney would do. If Los Angeles wants to charge me additional taxes based on a warped perspective of who I am and what I do, I want to face those taxes like a man instead of running and hiding on the other side of I-5. Also, if I were to become a tax refugee I’d want to do it somewhere glamorous like Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, or literally any location that isn’t Burbank – a city named after a dentist.

If I’ve got any conservative readers left I’m sure they’re laughing their asses off that the tax-and-spend liberal has suddenly been saddled with unnecessary extra taxes in Obama’s second term. For what it’s worth, now I suddenly understand all the complaining business owners do about unnecessary taxes – although I imagine they probably make a little more money every year than I do here at my company with one employee, one customer, and one product.  

I really wouldn’t mind paying this tax if it was being accessed accurately. If it were just a tax on people who sing Jefferson Starship in the car too much or accidentally turn on the garbage disposal instead of the kitchen light I’d be happy to pay it, because both of those are things that I do. How about a tax for people who are lactose intolerant but eat cheese anyway? I’d pay the shit out of that tax.

But taxing me as a business is just plain unfair – not so much to me as it is to all the other actual businesses out there. Operating a business takes dedication, long hours, and hard work, none of which I’m particularly crazy about. Taxing me as a business is giving me credit for work I don’t do – if we’re going to go about it that way, why not charge me an ‘enormous rippling biceps’ tax too?

Point is, business majors, I’m sorry. If any of you are interested in investing, I’d be happy to sell you a controlling interest of myself and see if you can manage me any better.

Truman Capps is going to have an awesome Christmas party this year.