The Spectacle Blog

The Income Tax Turns One Hundred

Congress didn't even expect the states to approve the 16th Amendment

By on 2.2.13 | 9:10AM

Back on February 3, 1913, the states approved the 16th Amendment, which authorized a federal income tax.  It didn't much matter then.  Rates were low and most people didn't pay it.

Moreover, people felt free to avoid it even when they were formally liable.  Jay Starkman points out in the Wall Street Journal:

After the tax law was passed, judges embraced it—for everyone else, just not themselves. Judges across the land proclaimed that the Constitution prohibited diminishing their salaries (and those of the president and state employees) through taxation. They emphasized the point by issuing court rulings in their own favor, excusing themselves from the tax. This lasted until the Depression, when the force of public opinion essentially shamed them into relenting. Under a law passed in 1932, Franklin Roosevelt became the first president subject to the income tax, but he refused to pay an increased rate that he helped enact in 1934. FDR insisted on paying the lower 1932 rates.

Those were the days!

Today half of people don't pay.  That would be fine if it was a minor levy.  But when it is the most important means of financing Leviathan, exempting so many people creates the illusion of a free lunch.  Vote for more programs because someone else is paying.

Can America last another century when so many people want to live beyond their means at everyone else's expense?

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