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Ed Driscoll

The Alpha And The Omega Of Income Tax

April 15th, 2010 - 2:50 pm

At CNS News, they’re reprinting the original tax return from 1913: just three pages of forms, and one page of instructions:

Americans now spend billions of hours each year doing their taxes, or paying someone else to do them. But the first 1040 federal income tax form from 1913, including the instructions, was only four pages long (the instructions covered only one page).

At the same time, less than 1 percent of the population owed any federal income tax and paid at a rate of only 1 percent of net income, according to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Today, the instructions for the basic 1040 tax form total 101 pages, and there are 76 lines that taxpayers must fill-in with information.

In order to ease the pain a bit, in his debut article at Pajamas, James Lileks has a few really alternative tax proposals:

No doubt some Republicans would push for such a law as a sop for passing the VAT, and content themselves that they’d done their part. These are the same guys who would vote for a bill that taxed soda, but attach a rider that declared Coke “part of our national heritage.” We got something, they got something. But canny Republicans will yell from the rooftops about the VAT, and force Democrats in squeaker elections to repudiate it — and hence admit there just maybe might be a limit to the number of millstones you can pile on the economy’s chest — or give it bland endorsements that make them sound like they really believe we can bring back jobs by making everything more expensive. No Democrat can say the VAT’s required to pay for ObamaCare, since we’ve been told it will lower costs to the point where MRIs will be so cheap they replace tanning-bed clubs in suburban strip malls.

We won’t see a VAT soon, but progressives have patience. Ideally, they would like America to be as much like Europe as possible before continental drift brings the continents together, but if there are still some details to clear up as the land masses come within hailing distance, fine. But it’s important to have alternatives to propose — so what can the GOP push?

The Standard Operating Revenue Overall Seizure, or SOROS tax. This would take every penny George Soros has in exchange for Sen. Max Baucus’ 125,000 acre ranch. Advantages: deeply satisfying. Disadvantages: only works once.

The flat tax. Everyone pays the same amount. Advantages: everyone knows what they owe. Disadvantages: ridiculously unfair, unless you take gazillionares like Bill Gates and declare him to be, in legal terms, 350,000 people. At least that would boost sales of the Zune.

The flat-rate tax. That’s more like it: everyone pays the same percentage, with the poor getting a break. Right now we have different brackets — hand, arm, leg, torso; this would mean everyone would have to pay a finger, or ten percent. Some people have bigger finger than others, so they’d pay more. Advantages: simple. Disadvantages: confused people mailing severed fingers every April 15th. Defenders of the ever-hungry Jabba the Fed would note that the upper classes still have enough for diamond-tipped stick pins and ostrich-egg omelettes, but let them shriek.

Would they raise enough money? I don’t know. But the point isn’t to design a tax system capable of supporting the government, but to devise the simplest, fairest tax code devoid of niggling manipulations, and tailor the government to fit the revenues. Heresy! Which is why you fear reform is doomed. What was the last enormous government program anyone succeeded in whittling down to something tiny and benign?

Besides the military. But we still don’t know if they’ll be successful with that project.

Heh. When I became one of the editors at PJM, in addition to producing the weekly Sirius-XM show, James was the first writer I asked to contribute; I was delighted when he agreed — watch for more from him at PJM in the not too distant future. (Illustration via a RatherGate-era Bleat.)

Meanwhile, in-between dreams of Orwellian tax days past and future, comes this classic moment:

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As Allahpundit writes, “This is the last Tax Day you’ll ever experience where this tool will even attempt this argument. Per Robert Samuelson, it’s all downhill from here.”

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