We approach that notable time of year when the snow is melting, the sun is shining, and a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of itemizing to offset the annual looting fest by our federal and state governments. Today we band together in the spirit of survival to remember that even in 2009, there is life after taxes, as long as we don't have to buy anything for the rest of the year.
While the Obama administration struggles to ease our tax burden, we reflect on the roots of American taxes when in 1773, the colonists staged The Boston Tea Party to rebel against taxation without representation -- since the commute to Parliament was prohibitive and also non-deductible. In addition to spiking the flavor of Boston Harbor, the Tea Party succeeded in eliminating the unfair tea tax, which we later replaced with the property tax, employment tax, social security tax, capital gains tax, and the income tax.
Taxation was not always a contact sport. In the early 1800s, Americans paid a simple luxury tax on items like tobacco and alcohol, a reason to be grateful for other people's vices. But the history of tax is the history of war. The sales tax was born to finance the War of 1812, while the income tax was conceived by President Lincoln to bankroll the Civil War -- along with the excise tax, the car wash and the yard sale.
Repealed in 1872, revived in 1894, ruled unconstitutional in 1895, and reinstated in 1913, the lowly misunderstood income tax is here to stay. Which is why today we pay our taxes every year whether we are engaged in combat or just sitting at home decoding our 1040s. And by now we are getting used to the feeling of always having someone else's hand in our wallets, and realizing that paying taxes to Uncle Sam doesn't mean we're losing money. We're gaining shares of an F-16 Viper.
The Internal Revenue Service has been collecting our taxes since 1862. And apparently it's still not enough. And if they ever have a question, they will be happy to audit your tax returns all the way back to your first newspaper route, a procedure as painless as having your spleen removed through your mouth in a dentist's office. And a reminder to all wage earners to save your receipts so you can justify every business latté you ever deducted. Not that I knew about receipts when I was 23 and got audited -- probably for earning so little income, which I had no idea was illegal. I arrived carrying a big cardboard box filled with mystery papers organized like the contents of a wastebasket and probably included some receipts. In response to each of the questions posed by the tax collector, who breathed fire that swirled high above his horns, I rummaged through the box holding up one receipt after another asking, "Is this it?" [No response.] "How about this one?" Honestly, I was not under the influence of any mind-altering substances, although that could only have helped. But after a while the tax collector told me to take my box and never darken his doorway again. Maybe he decided to try meeting his quota with a better prospect, like Chevron.
Before you try the "big box of mystery papers" method, remember that results may vary. Consult your tax adviser. And be prepared, be very prepared. After all, paying taxes is just the price of our freedom to work and pay taxes. Remember this when you're drinking your next cup of tea.