Politics & Policy

Our Income-Tax Monstrosity

Some startling statistics about the tax code in America.

Many years ago I framed a classic Peanuts cartoon on the wall of my office. It shows Snoopy sitting on top of his dog house pecking away at his typewriter. The message he writes is, “Dear IRS: Please take me off your mailing list!” If only it were that easy. With the dreaded April 15th tax filing deadline here, millions of us can empathize with our dear friend Snoopy. So for those like me who are perennial tax-filing procrastinators — having spent recent days armed with pencils, erasers, reams of financial records, 1040 forms, and Excedrin tablets — here are some startling statistics about the monstrosity of the tax code we’ve created in America.*

Thirty percent of the time callers to the 1-800 help line at the IRS get a busy signal, a recorded message, are disconnected, or receive the wrong information.

Between 1986 and 1998 the IRS wasted $5 billion on a computer system that didn’t work.

The IRS once seized all the money in Katie Wier’s bank account to pay her parent’s delinquent taxes. Katie is six year’s old. The IRS collected $26.

An old man entered the IRS office in New Orleans bleeding after he caught his hand in the door. He asked for help. But instead of offering even a band-aid the IRS officers joked that they would be happy to take more of his blood.

The first income tax in 1913 required that just 2% of American families complete a tax return. The highest tax rate then was 7%.

Businesses will spend about 3.4 billion man-hours and individuals about 1.7 billion hours figuring out their taxes this year. That is the equivalent of 3 million people working full time year-round on tax-preparation work. This is more people than now serve in the U.S. armed forces. It is more man-hours than are required to build every car, van, and truck in the United States.

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the federal income tax.” So said Albert Einstein.

The Gettysburg Address runs about 270 words. The Declaration of Independence has 1,337 words. The Holy Bible runs about 773,000 words. Our income-tax code runs about 7 million words and is still growing.

The IRS sends out 8 billion pieces of paper to taxpayers every year. Ending the income tax would save thousands of trees.

In 1988 the IRS seized the $10.35 from Garry Keffer’s savings account. Keffer, who was 12 years old, took matters into his own hands. He wrote President Ronald Reagan, “I am now feeling distrustful of the United States due to my financial devastation.”

“The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than the game of golf.” Will Rogers, 1924.

Taxes now account for 31% of the cost of a loaf of bread, 30% of the cost of a hotel room, and 43% of the price of a bottle of beer.

If the IRS pasted together all of the paperwork it receives annually, the result would wrap around the earth roughly 36 times.

In 1894, the New York Times described the first income tax to pass Congress as a “vicious, inequitable, unpopular, impolitic, and socialistic act….The crusade for an income tax is the most unreasoning and un-American movement in the politics of the last quarter-century.”

A Money magazine poll found that 70% of the members of Congress on the two major tax writing committees — House Ways and Means and Senate Finance — cannot figure out their own returns and use professional tax preparers.

If you’re late paying your income taxes this year, try this excuse on for size (as reported in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago). Some late filers are soliciting the aid of their psychiatrists and lawyers to explain a new malady to the IRS: “The failure to file syndrome.” New York attorney Robert Fink says he recently defended a throat surgeon who hadn’t filed federal income taxes for 10 years because of “an aversion to filling out forms.”

Hey, I suffer from that affliction too!

*Thanks to Money magazine for many of these items.

— Stephen Moore is president of the Club for Growth.


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