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TS Eliot and the tax treatment of the brain

columns Updated: Jul 23, 2016 23:06 IST
TS Eliot

TS Eliot wrote that April is the cruellest month, because they deducted so much of his salary in March to pay taxes he had no money left. The poor chap was a bank clerk, which explains how he found the time to write poetry, but I guess he wasn’t paid much(Getty Images)

Are you familiar with the poetry of TS Eliot? He wrote that April is the cruellest month, because they deducted so much of his salary in March to pay taxes he had no money left. The poor chap was a bank clerk, which explains how he found the time to write poetry, but I guess he wasn’t paid much.

Sure, April is bad, but what about July, when you have to fill in your income tax forms? It’s the time when it’s brought home to you forcefully how the government thinks of you primarily as a resource to extract money from. The Marxists call it primitive accumulation.

I understand as a responsible citizen the government needs our taxes to pay its ministers and bloated bureaucracy and cronies who build the potholes we call roads, but does that mean they should treat us even worse than machines? Yet that’s precisely what the income tax rules do.

Let me explain. What is it that enables you to do your important job at the office? No, it’s not just buttering up your boss. It’s your brain, the all-important human brain that has made us lords and masters of creation. Now whenever we work we exercise our brains, right? For those who find that hard to believe, a little willing suspension of disbelief, please. Working results in wear and tear of our brains. Do the income tax rules provide for a deduction for this wear and tear? No sir, they do not.

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But if you’re using a machine in your business, you can claim depreciation on it as a tax deduction. This depreciation is nothing but an allowance for wear and tear of the machine. So the government allows a tax deduction for the wearing out of a machine, but not that of a human brain. How low can they get?

Some people like football players, dancers, actors may make a living using other parts of their bodies and they should have tax deductions for those too.

Sceptics will ask how a brain is to be valued. Well, if market analysts know the fair value of a share, if the government knows the fair value of telecom spectrum, they can easily value a brain. In case there is doubt, we could auction one on e-Bay and find out.

Consider the advantages if humans are treated like machines or companies. All expenditure on medicines, hospitalisation and doctors’ fees would be deducted from income as repairs, while that on food will be deducted as maintenance. For accelerated-brain-depreciation jobs such as writing newspaper columns, booze expenses are an essential part of maintenance.

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Money spent on education, training and sharpening the mind by watching TV qualifies as research and development expenses. Gym expenses will be deductible as infrastructure development. All expenses on kids will be deductible, because kids are nothing but start-ups. Even those of us whose mental abilities are suspect need not worry, we could claim backward area development allowances, just as the corporate sector does.

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Once these changes are made, people will start appreciating the government and tax officials, as TS Eliot hoped they would. He wrote hopefully in ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’, doubtless a poem about an income tax officer, ‘In the room the women come and go, talking of the ITO.’

Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint

The views expressed are personal