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"The Tax Was Most Popular Before It Was Laid"


On this date in 1913, from the New York Times:

POPULARITY OF THE INCOME TAX. The Chamber of Commerce has directed an inquiry into the administrative feature of the income tax after a debate in which it was said that the tax would not affect 99 per cent. of the citizenship. It was suggested that this deprived the bill of general interest, and that it was sure to be unpopular on account of the narrowness of its application.
The case is worse than this. It will tax the honest and allow the dishonest to escape. The administrative features which the Chamber is to investigate are so complicated that those who understand them will make their taxes light at the cost of those less well informed about the law. The income tax law may be considered good nevertheless by some, but even those who approve the tax despite its faults cannot contend that the same sums could not have been raised more certainly, more equitably, and with less trouble to both payers and collectors by a stamp tax.
The experience with the tariff shows how hard it is to reduce or remove a tax once laid. It always seems better and easier to devise ways to spend the money than to repeal the tax. This fact will be better appreciated as the years pass, and particularly when the time shall come when this extraordinary tax—as it ought to be—shall be needed for an emergency. Then it will appear that this resource has been utilized and that the tax must be doubled instead of imposed initially. The tax was most popular before it was laid. Its unpopularity will grow with its life.

Christopher Westley a professor of economics in the Lutgert College Business at Florida Gulf Coast University and an associated scholar at the Mises Institute.

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