100 Years of the Income Tax

Sunday, February 3, is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, which makes it the one hundredth birthday of the income tax. It has grown rather ill-tempered in its dotage.

Americans for Tax Reform commemorated the occasion by publishing a few fun facts about the income tax. Among other interesting statistics, the initial top tax bracket was only 7 percent, and it didn’t kick in until income reached a whopping $11.6 million in 2013 dollars. Only 358,000 people had to fill out 1040 forms at first, because the standard family deduction was an adjusted $93,000.

Over the past hundred years, the tax code has swelled from 400 pages to almost 74,000. The top rate is 39.6 percent; add in state and local taxes, and you’ve got the government soaking up over half of every marginal dollar earned by the Evil Rich. And the top bracket crashes down on those who earn over $450k, which is the new functional definition of a “millionaire.” Every new tax – from the income tax itself, to the Alternative Minimum Tax and its prospective stepchild, the “Buffett Rule” – is sold as a small levy on the vast wealth of millionaires. The AMT was only supposed to affect a couple of hundred people when it was implemented in 1969, but now it’s on the verge of grabbing 50 million taxpayers, if it’s not “fixed.” In the early years of the income tax, Americans were likewise assured that it would only slip a few dollars from the bulging wallets of the wealthy.
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