Last month marked one-hundred years since the passage of the 16th amendment which established the federal personal income tax. As one columnist remarked on the occasion, this amendment receives far less celebration than other amendments or than from what it is due.
From the air we breathe and the water we drink to the security we feel at night, from the teachers in the classroom to the meat on the table to the airplanes that do not crash, from FEMA and CIA, FBI and BATF and dozens of other acronym agencies and programs, taxes — as Justice Holmes observed — are what we pay for civilized society.
The first century of the personal income tax can also teach us a lot, especially in this era when the income tax is under attack. As the American Prospect article highlights, a progressive income tax can help societies do big things and those things include more than just raising revenue. Check out their piece here. The belated birthday of the personal income tax should remind us to celebrate what income taxes have made possible not eliminate them.