The American Tax System: 100 years old this month

10:23 AM, Feb 5, 2013   |    comments
(AP file)
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(NBC) -- The modern income tax system has been called a lot of things, and now it also can officially be called a centenarian.

The current tax system was formalized 100 years ago this month, when the 16th Amendment was ratified.

Before income taxes, the government was mainly getting its money from tariffs and sin taxes on things like alcohol and tobacco, said Joseph Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts.

Some argued that meant the middle and lower class were being disproportionately burdened by taxes, while the upper class wasn't carrying enough of the burden.

"It was really a fairness tool. It was also a revenue tool," Thorndike said. "Those same people who thought it would be fair thought it would raise a lot of money."

It wasn't the first time the country had ever had a federal income tax. Most notably, there been one briefly during the Civil War, but it had been allowed to expire once the war ended, Thorndike said. After that, there were many attempts to clarify a federal income tax system, and the 16th Amendment aimed to do that.

In the years since 1913, the current tax system has evolved to include things that people never could have imagined 100 years ago, such as tax breaks for hybrid cars. But Thorndike noted that the basic premise of the tax code - and the disputes over whether it is fair - have remained the same over the decades.

"We're still arguing about the same stuff and still complaining about the same stuff," he said.

To wit, here are 100 quotes about why we hate, and love, the tax system.

1. "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." - Ben Franklin

2. "The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax." - Albert Einstein

3. "The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin." - Mark Twain

4. "The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf." - Will Rogers

5. "While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks." - Warren Buffett

6. "I have always paid income tax. I object only when it reaches a stage when I am threatened with having nothing left for my old age - which is due to start next Tuesday or Wednesday." - Noel Coward

7. "The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government." - Barry Goldwater

8. "Hating the Yankees is as American as pizza pie, unwed mothers, and cheating on your income tax." - Mike Royko

9. "When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income." - Plato

10. "Income tax returns are the most imaginative fiction being written today." - Herman Wouk

11. "No taxation without regimentation." - Archie Bunker (fictional TV character on "All in the Family")

12. "I think that taxes would be fair if we first get rid of the tax code." - Herman Cain

13. "When Mitt Romney says he wants to reform the tax code, hold onto your wallets." - Charles Schumer

14. "Read my lips: No new taxes!" - George H.W. Bush (by way of Peggy Noonan)

15. "Congress can raise taxes because it can persuade a sizable fraction of the populace that somebody else will pay." - Milton Friedman

16. "Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery." - Calvin Coolidge

17. "If Thomas Jefferson thought taxation without representation was bad, he should see how it is with representation." - Rush Limbaugh

18. "Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

19. "The United States has a system of taxation by confession." - Hugo Black

20. "There is no such thing as a good tax." - Winston Churchill

21. "Why is it that if you take advantage of a tax break and you're a corporation, you're a smart businessman, but if you take advantage of something you need to not be hungry, you're a moocher?" - Jon Stewart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

22. "They can't collect legal taxes from illegal money." - Al Capone

23. "As you know, under our three-branch system of government, the tax laws are created by: Satan." - Dave Barry

24. "In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other." - Voltaire

25. "Isn't it appropriate that the month of the tax begins with April Fool's Day and ends with cries of 'May Day!'?" - Rob Knauerhase

26. "Today, it takes more brains and effort to make out the income-tax form than it does to make the income." - Alfred E. Neuman (fictional mascot on "Mad" magazine)

27. "Elections should be held on April 16th - the day after we pay our income taxes. That is one of the few things that might discourage politicians from being big spenders." - Thomas Sowell

28. "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." - Leona Helmsley

29. "The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along, paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return." - Gore Vidal

30. "The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets." - Will Rogers

31. "I am favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's possible." - Milton Friedman

32. "The people are hungry: It is because those in authority eat up too much in taxes." - Lao Tzu

33. "One of the things I have been preaching around the world is collecting taxes in an equitable manner, especially from the elites." - Hillary Clinton

34. "These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect." - Mitt Romney

35. "I'm proud to pay taxes in the United States; the only thing is, I could be just as proud for half the money." - Arthur Godfrey

36. "And the cornerstone of my economic policies, when I first got elected, was cutting taxes on everybody on who paid taxes." - George W. Bush

37. "You don't pay taxes - they take taxes." - Chris Rock

38. "Taxes are not good things, but if you want services, somebody's got to pay for them so they're a necessary evil." - Michael Bloomberg

39. "Big business never pays a nickel in taxes, according to Ralph Nader, who represents a big consumer organization that never pays a nickel in taxes." - Dave Barry

40. "The wages of sin are death, but by the time taxes are taken out, it's just sort of a tired feeling." - Paula Poundstone

41. "Taxes are important. President Bush's tax proposals leave no rich person behind. Voters approve of President Bush helping the kind of people they wish they were one of." - Andy Rooney

42. "The reward of energy, enterprise and thrift is taxes." - William Feather

43. "Washington is a place where politicians don't know which way is up and taxes don't know which way is down." - Robert Orben

44. "I just want Texas to be number one in something other than executions, toll roads and property taxes." - Kinky Friedman

45. "I think most people... would be glad to pay the same taxes they paid when Bill Clinton was president, if only they could have the same economy they had when Bill Clinton was president." - Howard Dean

46. "It's really American to avoid paying taxes, legally." - Lindsey Graham

47. "I've been held responsible for taxes I know nothing about." - James Brown

48. "We're going to look awfully stupid if we give income tax relief to people who do not pay income taxes." - Joe Scarborough

49. "There aren't many downsides to being rich, other than paying taxes and having relatives asking for money. But being famous, that's a 24-hour job right there." - Bill Murray

50. "The rich aren't like us, they pay less taxes." - Peter De Vries

51. "I'm like the guy who prepares your taxes or a dentist. I'm very conservative and boring in a lot of ways." - Augusten Burroughs

52. "The avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that still carries any reward." - John Maynard Keynes

53. "Tax reform is taking the taxes off things that have been taxed in the past and putting taxes on things that haven't been taxed before." - Art Buchwald

54. "In levying taxes and in shearing sheep it is well to stop when you get down to the skin." - Austin O'Malley

55. "April is tax month. If you are having trouble filing your taxes, then you should hire an accountant. They'll give you the same advice that they've given hundreds of corporations - taxes are for douche bags." - Ed Helms

56. "Look, we play the 'Star Spangled Banner' before every game. You want us to pay income taxes, too?" - Bill Veeck

57. "Inheritance taxes are so high that the happiest mourner at a rich man's funeral is usually Uncle Sam." - Olin Miller

58. "When we played, World Series checks meant something. Now all they do is screw your taxes." - Don Drysdale

59. "The politician's promises of yesterday are the taxes of today." - Mackenzie King

60. "Commercials on television are similar to sex and taxes; the more talk there is about them, the less likely they are to be curbed." - Jack Gould

61. "Death, taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them." - Margaret Mitchell

62. "We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle." - Winston Churchill

63. "I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization." - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

64. "The invention of the teenager was a mistake. Once you identify a period of life in which people get to stay out late but don't have to pay taxes - naturally, no one wants to live any other way." - Judith Martin

65. "The power to tax is the power to destroy." - John Marshall

66. "They tax when you earn a dollar, they tax you when you save it, they tax you when you invest it. If you earn a dividend, they tax it again, and if you're stupid enough to die, they steal up to half." - Grover Norquist

67. "This is a question too difficult for a mathematician. It should be asked of a philosopher"(when asked about completing his income tax form) - Albert Einstein

68. "The way taxes are, you might as well marry for love." - Joe E. Lewis

69. "A penny saved is worth two pennies earned . . . after taxes." - Randy Thurman

70. "Paying tax should be framed as a glorious civic duty worthy of gratitude - not a punishment for making money." - Alain de Botton

71. "The taxpayer - that's someone who works for the federal government but doesn't have to take the civil service examination." - Ronald Reagan

72. "America is a land of taxation that was founded to avoid taxation." - Laurence J. Peter

73. "Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages." - H.L. Mencken

74. "The nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose." - William Simon

75. "Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors... and miss." - Robert Heinlein

76. "Another difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time the legislature meets." - Robert Quillen

77. "It's income tax time again, Americans: time to gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil, and stab yourself in the aorta." - Dave Barry

78. "Man is not like other animals in the ways that are really significant: animals have instincts, we have taxes. - Erving Goffman

79. "Dear IRS, I am writing to you to cancel my subscription. Please remove my name from your mailing list." - Charles M. Schulz (Snoopy)

80. "The point to remember is that what the government gives it must first take away." - John S. Coleman

81. "Philosophy teaches a man that he can't take it with him; taxes teach him he can't leave it behind either." - Mignon McLaughlin

82. "Our tax code is so long it makes 'War and Peace' seem breezy." -Steven LaTourette

83. "We are told that this is an odious and unpopular tax. I never knew a tax that was not odious and unpopular with the people who paid it." - John Sherman

84. "You must pay taxes. But there's no law that says you gotta leave a tip." - Morgan Stanley advertisement

85. "Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is really quite as satisfying as an income tax refund." - F.J. Raymond

86. "There's nothing wrong with the younger generation that becoming taxpayers won't cure." - Dan Bennett

87. "It's about ten times the size of the Bible - and unlike the Bible, contains no good news." - Don Rickles, about the Internal Revenue Code

88. "Nothing hurts more than having to pay an income tax, unless it is not having to pay an income tax." - Thomas Robert Dewar

89. "Every advantage has its tax." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

90. "Income tax time is when you test your powers of deduction." - Shelby Friedman

91. "The difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion is the thickness of a prison wall." - Denis Healey

92. "Taxes, are the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

93. "A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul." - George Bernard Shaw

94. "Rich bachelors should be heavily taxed. It is not fair that some men should be happier than others." - Oscar Wilde

95. "Political figures who talk a lot about liberty and freedom invariably turn out to mean the freedom to not pay taxes and discriminate based on race; freedom to hold different ideas and express them, not so much." - Paul Krugman

96. "The United States has a huge budget deficit so taxes are going to have to go up and I certainly agree they should go up more on the rich than everyone else. That - that's just justice." - Bill Gates

97. "If you drive a car, I'll tax the street. If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet." - The Beatles

98. "You work hard, you went hungry now the taxman is out to get you." - Cheap Trick

99. "Tax me, please." - George Takei

100. "But talk is cheap, it takes money to buy your freedom, and the taxman's knocking at your door." - Jimmy Buffett

(The Today Show)

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