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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Yep, ruinous is the right word

Awww, and I forgot to even send a birthday card:

Amid all the attention paid to the government shutdown — more of a “slimdown,” as 83 percent of the government remains open — few people noticed that last Friday, October 4, marked the 100th anniversary of the federal income tax. The size and intrusiveness of the federal government that is at the heart of today’s shutdown would never have been possible without the income tax.

[. . .]

Critics warned a century ago that the new tax would ultimately be ruinous. The income tax “will tax the honest and allow the dishonest to escape,” the New York Times wrote. “Even those who approve the tax despite its faults cannot contend that the same sums could not have been raised more certainly, more equitably, and with less trouble to both payers and collectors by a stamp tax.” The Times warned that in any emergency the tax rates would be sure to rise and that “its unpopularity will grow with its life.”

Since then, with rare exceptions, the income tax has grown like Topsy, fueled in large part by the kinds of emergencies the Times worried about. As journalist David Van Edema put it: “The government, using Americans’ sense of patriotism and duty, [has] found new excuses to not only raise taxes, but widen the range of who would pay for them, and how.”

At the heart of the debate over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling are concerns about the size and scope of government, or at least many of us on the right think they should be. And that government got to be as huge and powerful as it is in great part because of the income tax, very cleverly designed to come out of our paychecks a little at a time so we notice the absence of the money less.

What makes the whole shutdown-ceiling babble-a-thon so painful to watch is that we all know as soon as it's over, things are going back to exactly how they were. People who keep calling for the income tax to be replaced by something more sensible and less onerous are living in fantasy world.