As the last April of the 1900s nears its midpoint, it may be a
good time for Americans to reflect upon the most effective means of
social and economic change their national government has created in
the past century.
No, not special prosecutors.
The income tax.
Before the US began skimming from the cash, its citizens took home
the government was small enough to be run by a tariff on such things
as boots. Now it's so big that at times it seems to need all of
Before the income tax Washington was so small dogs could sleep on
Pennsylvania Avenue. Now its so big that you can't even get to
Pennsylvania Avenue - it's blocked off to protect the White House
from terrorists and, presumably, beavers like those just caught
eating cherry trees down by the Tidal Basin.
The income tax encourages you to buy a house, to have kids, to
contribute to politics. It's always been complicated - Abe Lincoln
made a mistake on his (true story).
And it's due. Today.
This year the Internal Revenue Service expects to receive 126.1
million income tax returns from individuals. Some 25 percent of
these will be filed electronically, predicts the IRS. They have no
word on whether that's because Bill Gates has so much money he has
file 31 million times.
If past years are any guide, the largest single category of
deduction these taxpayers will take is home mortgage interest,
totaling about $194 billion. Encouragingly, the fastest-growing
deduction may be charitable giving, which went up by almost 20
percent in tax year 1997.
As the size of these numbers shows, the income tax touches so many
Americans that it is arguably the most important interface between
the US government and its citizens. Tax day seems to have always
been with us, like the Washington Monument, or Cher.
But it hasn't been. The income tax is a relatively recent
phenomenon in US history. It goes hand-in-hand with the rise of the
United States from a rural agrarian society to the superpower it is
Back in 1899, April 15 was just another day for plowing. Though
industrialization was sweeping through sections of the US, the
government was so small that it didn't have to chase taxes, so to
speak. Washington lived off tariffs and the proceeds from the sale
of federal land to homesteaders.
"We had a very small Army and so forth, so the government didn't
need very much," says William Samson, an expert in the history of
taxation at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. …