The Tax Man Cometh

Happy Tax Day, everybody.

Library workers, as guardians of the forms, are always happy to see this day arrive.  It means that we can put the forms away for another year.  We regain some of the flat space in our library, always at a premium.  We can stop telling people that we are not allowed to determine which form they need, that it’s a question they have to resolve themselves [we hate not to answer questions!]

How we ever became the repository for tax forms is a question best left to library historians.  I suspect it’s a case of not knowing how to say no.  We are very good at saying yes, not so great at saying no.

“Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., U.S. Supreme Court Justice

According to the Library of Congress, the origin of the individual income tax is usually traced back to the passage of the 16th Amendment in 1909.  However, its history goes back at least to the Civil War when Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1861.  That act included a tax on income to help pay for war expenses.   It was later repealed.  Then in 1894 Congress enacted a flat rate income tax, which was ruled unconsititional the following year by the Supreme Court “because it was a direct tax not apportioned according to the population of each state.  The 16th amendment, ratified in 1913, removed this objection by allowing the Federal government to tax the income of individuals without regard to the population of each State.” [1]

“People who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes: men and women.” — Unknown

When you are tempted to complain about taxes, think about this for a minute:

In 1918, during World War I, the top rate of the income tax rose to 77 percent to help finance the war effort. It dropped sharply in the post-war years, down to 24 percent in 1929, and rose again during the Depression. [2]

We are happy to have the forms put away once again, but libraries are part of the “civilized society” that Justice Holmes rightly noted taxes support.  Libraries are paid for by tax dollars, and studies have shown that for every dollar, libraries deliver over $5 of value to the community.[3]

“The power of taxing people and their property is essential to the very existence of government.” — James Madison, U.S. President

So as you run to the post office to file your form, or click that last button on your computer, remember that, as things are currently structured, taxes make libraries possible.  I hope that will make the medicine go down a bit better.


[1] http://www.loc.gov/rr/business/hottopic/irs_history.html

[2] http://www.irs.gov/irs/article/0,,id=149200,00.html

[3]http://www.lrs.org/documents/closer_look/roi.pdf; http://www.ala.org/research/librarystats/roi

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