The income tax at 100

  • Article by: MIKE MEYERS
  • Updated: April 13, 2013 - 5:18 PM

Let’s take a spin through history, impressions and practice.


David Miller illustration of Uncle Sam frantically trying to finish his taxes before the deadline.

Photo: David Miller, Seattle Times/MCT

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Happy birthday, bra and zipper!

The bra has its critics (irritated feminists, on a symbolic level, and maladroit teenage boys, on a more practical plain). The zipper, apart from snagging, bears tangible testimony to expanding waistlines. But the federal income tax, that’s something special.

Little else can match its purchase on the mind — and the wallet. The bra and the zipper have better odds of being commemorated in centennial celebrations than does the handiwork of the IRS and Congress.

Still, the income tax can claim admirers, of a sort. They’re part of a vast archipelago of lawyers, accountants, lobbyists and tax-shelter fabulists. They occupy gleaming towers on Washington’s K Street. They dispatch cash to sunny tropical isles, havens from paying unto Caesar that which otherwise would be due.

Given their discretely veiled prosperity, the 100th anniversary of the income tax may inspire a few Dom Pérignon toasts after all. In quiet rooms, perhaps.

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“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

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One hundred million federal taxpayers in fiscal 2013 together will part with $1.7 trillion in personal income taxes — reflecting 47 percent of all U.S. proceeds, the largest source of Uncle Sam’s revenue.

Americans this year will spend more than 6 billion hours preparing income tax returns — collecting records, visiting accountants, fumbling through TurboTax and printing forms. Forbes magazine figures all that effort represents the equivalent of a year of full-time toil for 3 million workers. Well, at least the average Joe can count on one job not to disappear.

The IRS employs 90,000 workers and spends about $12 billion a year to gather more than $2.5 trillion in individual and corporate income taxes. That works out to about $208 in taxes collected for every $1 spent by the agency.

Nevertheless, the IRS lost 780 agents in congressional budget cuts last year. Republicans long have championed paring the agency’s budget. Can’t think why.

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