Death and the 16th Amendment

Feb. 25 - I just found out that as a foreign resident I don't have to file my U.S. income taxes until June 15. I was excited at first, but on reflection it's no more exciting than having a dental appointment postponed a couple of months. It's a reprieve, that's all. And since I'll probably be living in the states in 2005, it means there'll be even less time between my next filings.

In The God Particle, Leon Lederman relates the following historical anecdote:

The story is often told that the British Prime Minister visited Faraday’s laboratory in 1832 and, pointing to the funny machine [the first hand-cranked electrical generator], asked what its use was.

"I know not, but I wager that one day your government will tax it," said Faraday. A tax on electrical generation was levied in England in 1880.

Anecdotes aren't for everyone. For the more numerically inclined, here are some statistics from David Boaz's Libertarianism (he credits them to Dean Stansel's unpublished 1995 paper for the Cato Institute, "Total Government Spending as a Share of the Private Economy"):

Percentage of Private National Product Appropriated by the Government

1929, 13.7%
1939, 31.4%
1947, 26.4%
1960, 42.5%
1970, 51.5%
1980, 52.5%
1990, 55.8%
1994, 54.5%

Or maybe you don't like anecdotes or numbers. Here's a chart (courtesty of the Cato Institute's "10 Outrageous Facts About the Income Tax"):

I mention all this because it was 91 years ago this very day (on February 25, 1913) that the 16th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, providing for an income tax.

"The Congress shall have the power," Amendment XVI informs us, "to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration."

Was ever a people more brazenly mugged by itself?

Surprisingly, the government was at first shy about using these new powers. As late as 1939, only 5% of the population had to file federal income tax returns. In 1943, President Roosevelt introduced the concept of state-sponsored larceny (i.e., "income tax withholding") to help fund World War II. The rest is history.

"I believe that a better way to raise revenue not only can be found but must be found," said one Coleman Andrews, "because I am convinced that the present system is leading us right back to the very tyranny from which those who established this land of freedoom risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to forever free themselves."

Who's this Coleman Andrews, you ask? Some kind of whacko libertarian anti-tax nut job?

Mr. Andrews was Commissioner of the IRS for about three years in the 1950s. He made this speech after his resignation (but prior to his mastery of prepositions).

Taxation, alas, seems to have become like the weather: everyone complains about it, but no one ever does anything about it.

* * *

It's poker night tonight, so Thursday's Almanac may show up a little late... maybe not at all. Check the blog.

* * *

The Moron's Index
Bean Counter: 14 weeks + 5 days
Days as a Non-Smoker: 10
Avg Income Tax Rate on Danish Production Worker: 44.2%
Avg Income Tax Rate on American Production Worker: 30.0%

(Source: Skat.dk.)

Dagens Ord (The Word of the Day)
Skat. Literally treasure, but also used for tax and darling. "Betale din skat, skat" = "Pay your taxes, honey."

* * *

George Harrison would have been sixty-one years old today. The late Beatle shared his birthday with Sally Jessy Raphael, also born in 1943, Tom Courtenay (1937), Anthony Burgess (1917), Jim Backus (1913), Zeppo Marx (1901), and Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841).

Today is National Day in Kuwait. It's Flag Day in both Bangladesh and Peru, People's Revolution Day in the Philippines, and Day of the Revolution in Suriname.

Happy hump day!

© 2004, The Moron's Almanac™

[close window]
[Daily Briefing Archive]