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Why We Pay Taxes

By Dian Vujovich

Here’s an idea: Instead of griping about the taxes we pay, maybe we ought to think about what they pay for. We do, after all, live in a terrific– albeit not perfect country– where living takes money. And, managing a country of well over 300 million people takes bundles of it.

Earlier this morning I ran across a quote from Supreme Court Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.”

I’m not sure how civilized we are these days. God knows the Internet, cable news networks, some horribly behaving adults and children, violent movies and TV shows can make one wonder. Then again, before the days of the various massive communication channels, who knows how civilized our behavior was then compared to now. I’m guessing there has always been a dark under-belly to us.

That said, let’s look at how life and taxes have changed in the past couple of hundred years using Justice Holmes as a kick-off point.

Holmes served as a justice on the highest court in our land from 1902 to 1931. During his lifetime he fought in the Civil War, met Abe Lincoln, saw the 16th Amendment to the Constitution come to fruition making U.S. tax system permanent, the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. He was the oldest serving judge retiring at age 90 in 1931, until now. Justice John Paul Stevens will be 90 on April 20.

When Justice Holmes first put his long black robe on there were about 76 million people in the country. A year before he left the court in 1930 there were over 123 million.

As for income taxes, in 1931 they ranged from a low of 1.5 percent to a high of 25 percent on those earning $100,000 or more.

Before we had a tax system what supported the country from 1791 to 1802 were things like taxes on booze, carriages, sugar, tobacco, snuff, property sold at auction, corporate bonds and slaves. After the War of 1812 sales taxes were imposed on fancy jewelry like gold and silverware.

Now, 200 years later, most of us have an income tax bill to pay each year. The monies collected go to pay for everything from our military to national parks, roads, schools, government employees, interest on debt, etc.

While there is certainly plenty of room for changes and corrections in our tax system, government spending and our behavior as “civilized” people, do you really want to give up on the services our tax dollars pay for? Just asking.

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