It’s tax time here in the USA. We think of it as the time we pay our taxes, though it’s truly more of a reckoning, when we look at how much taxes we’ve been paying all year and see whether or not we owe any more. Most of us overpay along the way and look forward to getting a few hundred dollars back. It’s a nice reward to make up for the anxiety of multiplying line 52 of schedule H by line 19b of worksheet 1062-ASSRAPE.
But what about taxes in our fiction? As much as we complain about them in real life, you’d think they’d make a regular appearance in our fiction, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Harry Dresden fill out his 1040. And come to think of it, I’ve never seen Captain Picard ask for an extension due to unforeseen Borg complications. Did magic and nanotechnology simply make taxes disappear? If so, I’m getting a blasting rod until the future arrives.
More likely this is one of those bits of reality that we just don’t want to see in our escapist fantasies. Just as Kirk never complained to McCoy about his irritable bowel syndrome, we also never had to hear him wondering which of his bastard children he was getting to count as an exemption. We’re trying to escape from our dreary reality filled with perverse directions such as “add stool sample to line 9b”. We don’t need it leaping off the pages armed with alien financial probes. We gave at the office.
But still, where is the Federation getting its money from? And don’t give me that crap of “we’ve advanced beyond such concerns as money.” That and a gram of gold-pressed latinum will get you a cup of coffee. There’s got to be someone paying for all this, and I guarantee at least a few of them aren’t holodeck-happy about it.
Other authors/series have done better. I remember that a lot of Babylon 5’s operating budget came from docking fees. David Weber’s Manticore crown paid for its massive fleet and bureaucracy via transit fees on the wormhole network it controlled. Both Elizabeth Moon’s and C.J. Cherryh’s mechant-heavy space operas paid heed to such things as import taxes and transit fees.
But rarely do I see taxes used as a source of conflict, and that does seem odd. The Romans taxed their conquered territories punitively. Both the American and French revolutions of the late 1700’s were ostensibly tax revolts. And anyone watching American politics in the last thirty years knows that taxes are always up in the top five topics being debated.
Maybe it’s hard to find high drama in the Laffer curve or in means-tested deduction phase-outs, but then again, they put Al Capone away not for murder but for income tax evasion. Perhaps a little tax conflict could be good for the story after all.
Or is it more common than I think? Have I had my head buried in tax-free utopias?
I suspect the derision poured on Star Wars: The Phantom Menace for having a trade treaty as its major plot device has put people off from using conflicts that are not directly related to explosions of worlds.