I noticed that no one made a point of this. February 3rd was the 100th anniversary of the 16th amendment which, in a nutshell, makes a federal income tax possible.
I was saddened yet not surprised to find that Google turned up nothing but results disparaging the evils of the income tax coming from the usual suspects like Forbes and the Cato Institute. The groups you'd expect to hate it are lamenting this anniversary, but the groups that should be celebrating it say not a word.
I'm sure it would be hard for modern Americans to believe that Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass the 16th amendment in response to overwhelming public support. Perhaps harder still for them to believe that support came from poor private citizens, farmers, and small business owners, with a high concentration in the deep south.
What did those people know then that they don't know now? What they knew is that the income tax burdened them less than other forms of taxation, and they knew that being taxed burdened them less than not being taxed. Far too few Americans seem to know that today. Perhaps it's because modern Americans have no memory of what it's like to live in a society with low tax rates that weigh mostly against the poor and not on robber barons. They can't even ask their parents or grand parents about it. They've been allowed to forget what an improvement this is.
Since roughly the 1980s, Americans have been subjected to a never ending campaign to convince them that taxes are a metaphysical evil. Most Americans who oppose the income tax today would be hard pressed to explain the nature of their opposition. I know this from having spent a great deal of time listening to them. They make sparse moral appeals that rely heavily on key words. They mjight say that income taxes are wrong as they allow the government to steal the money that's rightfully yours because you earned it. A statement like that can certainly rile someone up but it is essentially vacuous. There's no practical utility to be found in that idea. Certainly no economics. In the popular discourse, people don't the wrong idea about income taxes as much as they have no idea about income taxes. What alternative to they desire? They don't desire any because they likely haven't thought about it.
While I know I'm now an endangered species, I am among those people who enthusiastically supported the policy 100 years ago. The income tax is one of the best thing that happened to this country. It's a simple and direct route for the government to take all the revenue it needs to do important things. It's an ideal tool for taking money from where it has ceased to serve a purpose and distributing it to where it can best turn vagrant and dependent citizens into productive members of society. It is one of the best methods to combat the ruinous development of economic inequality. Without the 16th amendment, the triumphs of the United States that spanned 1930 to 1970 would have been infeasible. The New Deal, World War 2, the interstate highway system, and the Great Society programs would likely have been out of our reach.
I would like to think that looking back on that day 100 years ago would force people to notice how much the present day rhetoric fails to match the USA's historical reality, but I lowered expectations beneath that sort of thing a long time ago. I would love to be surprised though, because I doubt the USA can survive much longer as a worthwhile nation if won't do away with it's irrational hostility to taxation.