(HOST) Most people’s property taxes come due right about now. And although Willem Lange says he doesn’t mind paying taxes, he does sometimes mind where they go.
(LANGE) In 1789 Benjamin Franklin wrote to one Jean-Baptiste Leroy: “Our new Constitution… promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
I had an uncle once who made a pun in almost every sentence. The word “tax” triggered an invariable response, “Taxes is the biggest state in the Union.”
Both those examples express our attitude toward taxes: one by their association with the grim inevitability of death, the other by exaggerating their importance in our consciousness. We don’t like them, and we spend a lot of time and energy arguing and grousing about them.
We’ve had one form of tax or another with us from the dawn of organized society. When it became obvious to people that organization for defense was the best way to combat outlaws, they combined forces against them. Combined forces have to be fed and armed somehow; thus were born the levee and the lev e en masse, a raising of taxes in the first case and a rising of the citizenry in the second.
You’ll recall that one of the major complaints of the American colonies concerned taxation. The colonists felt that citizens who paid taxes ought to have some say in the government that spent them. Parliament, however, added more taxes, and finally the colonies revolted. Thirteen years later France followed; 141 years later, Russia. The principle seems to be that the people bearing the burden need to feel they are getting fair measure in return.
The American nation got along for years on taxes on sugar, tobacco, whiskey, bonds, and slaves. These were sufficient until the Civil War, when the first graduated income tax was enacted.
Income taxes were levied in Italian cities during the Middle Ages, and in England during the Napoleonic Wars. They’ve always been unpopular. So in 1872 Congress dropped the income tax and went back to taxing cigarettes and booze.
In 1894 the income tax returned, but the following year the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional because it wasn’t fairly apportioned among the states. It wasn’t till 1913 that the 16th Amendment gave Congress the right to enact a permanent income tax on individuals and corporations.
The recent bestseller “Don’t Think of an Elephant!” records how the always heated debate on taxes was hijacked by the Bush Administration. The day he took office, the president began to use the phrase, “tax relief.”. This is called “framing.” It assumes there is an affliction – taxes – and that anyone who can ease that affliction is a hero. Anyone who demurs is a villain. Advantage, Rove.
Now, I don’t enjoy paying taxes, but I consider it the privilege of an employed, solvent citizen of the republic. My only regret – if I have one – is that I have so little to say about how they’re spent.
This is Willem Lange up in Orford, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.