Matt Murdock and the tax code

I will often joke about the fact that no aspect of Daredevil – the character, or the book and its cast – is too mundane to analyze in detail. So far, I’ve covered everything from Matt’s hair (and Foggy’s facial hair) to his love life (that post is probably due for an update), and what happens when he gets a cold.

Sometimes, I like to get a little more speculative, so for this post I’m going to write about something that has never actually been touched on in the comic, but which would – if the Marvel Universe is at all similar to our own – affect both Matt and the Nelson & Murdock law firm. Not in any major way, to be sure, but still. I am talking about the fact that Matt gets to make an extra deduction on his taxes, simply because he’s blind.

I’m sure this seems a little off-topic, but today is the first day of “tax season” in the U.S., and the special tax break for the blind is one of those things about the American tax code that I have been wondering about ever since that one year I actually paid taxes in the U.S. (you’re welcome) way back in 2005, and found it on line 39a of my 1040. While I can’t speak for other countries, there is nothing like this in my own country, in the sense that one particular disability gets singled out and people affected by it given special treatment, based solely on an arbitrary diagnosis, i.e. being on the “right” side of the legal blindness limit.

A shot of the relevant portion of a 1040 IRS tax form.

The best explanation of why the blind get a tax break can be found in this 2005 Slate article. It is worth reading in full, and it’s really not that long, but I’ll quote a portion of it here:

“Until the 1940s, personal exemptions from the income tax were so big that the tax burden was negligible for many Americans. But as the need for tax revenues increased during the war, the size of exemptions decreased; in 1942, a single filer could deduct just $500 from his or her income, as opposed to $1,000 in 1939 and $3,000 in 1916. The Revenue Act of 1943 relieved this growing burden in a number of ways; one was the creation of a $500 deduction for the blind—in gratitude, it was said, for work they’d done in the defense industries.”

“Why were the blind singled out for a special benefit? For one thing, blindness can be measured with relative ease. Federal guidelines are quite explicit: If you can’t see better than 20/200, or if your field of vision is less than 20 degrees, you can take the credit. Other conditions (like bad knees, for example) are more difficult to assess, although filers with such ailments can deduct “significant medical expenses”—currently defined as anything over 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income—from their income.”

The definition of legal blindness, as outlined about, becomes relevant for many purposes besides determining whether a person is eligible for a special tax deduction. It is used at both the state and federal level to determine access to various services. But the question one might ask is whether Matt would take advantage of it. I absolutely think he should. Not only does he “work” countless unpaid hours serving the people of New York, which would surely offset any guilt he might feel at paying a little less on what I assume is a pretty good income, there is also the fact that blindness can be very expensive. Matt may have super-senses, but even a few special gadgets can get really pricey, really fast. Something as simple as a desktop braille printer can cost thousands of dollars. Suddenly that tax break, $1,550 ($1,200 if he were married), seems like a minor consolation.

Of course, if Matt is smart, and we know he is, he would simply have Nelson and Murdock pay for the printer which, unlike certain other things, can be considered a business expense. Small businesses with thirty or fewer employees can make use of the Disabled Access Credit, by which they can be reimbursed for fifty percent of up to $10,000 per year for costs associated with making accommodations for a disabled employee. In practice though, it would also frequently fall to the courts, as public entities, to make sure that a blind lawyer in this case gets, say, a brailled copy of reports relevant to the case, or a description of some highly visual piece of evidence.

However, while blindness can be expensive, there’s also Matt’s “other” life to consider, and I suspect that’s where costs start to skyrocket. There are, for instance, the higher insurance premiums and co-pays associated with having the office attacked by supervillains on a semi-regular basis. On the other hand, in the Marvel Universe’s version of New York, this must a common problem. Just ask the people at the Daily Bugle, or really any place that Galactus would like to eat for breakfast. Then we have the medical expenses associated with regularly getting beat up. Add to that the cost of new Daredevil costumes (and office attire) which need to be replaced. I’m sure it adds up.

For a look at these and other legal matters that pertain to Daredevil, check out the always excellent Law and the Multiverse, a very ambitious blog run by real lawyers who love comic books. They even have a book out! Of special interest here is their post PS238: Superheroes and Tax Deductions, with part of the conclusion quoted below, but most of their stuff is both funny and thought-provoking and well worth reading.

“But he’s probably correct that the IRS would not consider his “vigilante detective” activity to be a business, and his office probably could not qualify as a home office if it were part of his house. The same is true of many other superheroes, including, most obviously, Batman.”

Well, this is it for now! This post was perhaps a little off-topic in pure Daredevil terms, but hey, it was educational, right? ;) I shall be back in a few short days with my interview with Daredevil: Road Warrior artist Peter Krause. Stay tuned!

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for doing the research on this! I had wondered about the blindness tax credit myself.

    Also, any post that mentions PS238 is full of win.

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