Happy Birthday, Income Tax

U.S. Income Tax Return forms 1040,1065,1120In case you missed it, February 3 marked the 100th birthday of the federal income tax. On that day in 1913 Delaware became the 36th state to ratify the 16th Amendment. Forbes magazine celebrated (our word, not theirs) the date by publishing this interesting piece by Professor Len Burman about the life of the American income tax thus far. Says Burman:

“The fact is that people mostly like the things that the income tax helps pay for—roads, courts, national defense, national parks, clear air and water and safe food, and a significant share of health programs for the elderly—even if they wish all those programs could be provided more efficiently.

A case in point: the major expansion of the income tax occurred because we needed to finance World War II. Americans supported that unprecedented rise in tax burdens—when the income tax went from a “class tax” to a “mass tax”—because they overwhelmingly supported the war against fascism. Although there’s no way of knowing this with certainty, World War II might have come out much differently if the United States were still reliant on excise taxes and tariffs as its primary source of revenue.”

In another piece from Common Dreams, Robert Reich describes the establishment of the federal income tax as the culmination of the progressive movement of the early 20th century. Moreover, he uses it as an example of what another progressive backlash against accumulation of wealth and power could look like today; in particular he references the potential for a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United versus FEC case.

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