Monday, September 21, 2009

Hey US Government, Give Superman a Break from Paying Taxes!

reprinted from

What is this guy's deal? Superman's never been asked to pay taxes before because he's not really a United States citizen, is he? Clark Kent is a U.S. citizen. Clark Kent uses public education, roads, etc. And thus Clark Kent pays federal and state taxes. Superman, on the other hand, is not a registered citizen. He does not even really use public services. When was the last time you saw Superman driving a car down the street and paying tolls? Really, Superman's home isn't even in the United States at all. It's all the way up in the North Pole, where he can cleverly dodge U.S. tax laws.

By the way, "you owe the government a fortune in taxes" has the implication that somewhere in the catacombs of the federal government, there exists a file that details what Superman owes. They don't even know what he makes!

I guess it would be understandable if the United States government did not know that Superman had a secret identity at all. If they thought that he was just an alien who, after fighting robots and catching crazy tax collectors, goes to some apartment and flies away every time a bill shows up, then it might be reasonable to ask him to pay taxes. Of course, the only way to do this and preserve his secret identity would be some sort of flat tax system since no one has any idea what Superman's resources actually are. Not only that, but the government would have to employ more tax collectors like this one to show up at his doorstep--or to keep jumping off buildings.

But, come on. I thought that it was common knowledge that he had a human secret identity. Do people really think that he walks into a grocery store in his tights and picks up some potato chips? If not, then the government would be double taxing the poor guy.

Give Superman a break!


Adam Gurri said...

Hahaha, classic! How does the whole IRS thing end in the comic, anyway?

Allen Varney said...

In the Silver Age, the era of the comic you discuss, Superman was commonly known to have a secret identity. Half of Lois Lane's stories were about her trying to discover his secret.

In the current continuity dating from John Byrne's reboot in the 1980s, it apparently doesn't even occur to anyone that Superman has a secret identity.

algeya said...

Why he should pay taxes as superman he doesnt have an income.

And all royalties of his brand like super man dolls, videogames etc goes to charity as seen post the reign of supermen

when he had legal troubles with his teen clone.

R Mutt said...

It's explained here:


Fortunately it turns out that he can claim the everyone on Earth as a dependent. Deducting $600 per dependent, he gets away tax-free.

Bryan Sharp said...

It really does take a superhero to not accidentally "slip" and drop the IRS guy.

Later, Superman could have claimed that hearing about taxes weakens him just as much as kryptonite.

"T-taxes?!?! Getting weak... hands... losing d-dexterity.."

ShadowBanker said...

Adam - Yeah, you can read the rest of it over at the link R Mutt posted. It really is amazing!

Allen - Are you sure? Maybe no one really cares anymore, but I still would like to believe that people don't think he's really in that uniform all day.

Brian - That's why he's Superman. He doesn't discriminate. Not even against the IRS.

JMP said...

Yep; it's been stated post-Crisis that, because he doesn't wear a mask like Batman, Flash, etc., people assume that Superman must just act as Superman 24/7, and not have a secret identity. This has been given as an explanation for why no one has connected him with one of the reporters who is always getting exclusive interviews with Superman, looks just like him except for glasses, and is married to the other reporter who is always getting exclusive interviews with Superman.

Basically, people in the DC Universe are idiots.

Michael T said...

This premise struck me as nonsense the first time around, umpety-ump years ago. If all his income comes from rewards and gifts but he gives it all away how does he have any taxable income?

Then I took tax law in law school and found that gifts to charity have a limit (about 20% of gross taxable income, I believe). So maybe Supes does have to declare and pay taxes on the rest.

The key is "gross taxable income," though. Revenue is part of gross taxable income before deductions, but not before certain credits and other exclusions. One of those permitted exclusions is revenue that the taxpayer elected to not recognize into income in the first place. In other words, if you do not accept the gift you can avoid the tax legally. Why would anyone do that? Precisely for the reason this guy wants Superman to pay taxes. If you are in an upper income bracket and already giving large amounts to charity, you don't want more gifts because you can't use a greater deduction (and charitable gifts generally are not items that can carry forward). So you decline to accept the gift in favour of a third party. The third party must meet certain rules (e.g., taxable US entity) but most 501(c)(3) charities meet those rules.

So we're back to the same result. Supes declines the income in favour of his favourite charity. He has zero income, and therefore zero taxes. If anything, he can claim government assistance (or at least earned income credit for a low earner).

BTW, the "everyone is his dependent" trick won't work. Only US citizens and residents, and only if they live at home and do not make their own income/file their own returns. Maybe Superman has several million orphans stowed away at the Fortress, hmmm?

The more interesting question comes from those heroes who do have income and do pay taxes. They are required to declare income from all sources under all aliases. So Flash has to declare both Barry Allen's taxable income from his day job as a CSI, and Flash's income. Then he can deduct such things as costumes, new boots, Dr. Scholl's, fancy rings, etc. as expenses needed to do his job. He also can deduct the rewards up to 20% of total income. Odds are most heroes can actually use this as a way to reduce taxes owed on their regular jobs. I've gotta believe that Bruce Wayne has figured that out, and maybe that's why Wayne Enterprises has weathered so many crises?

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