An Old Taxes Tale–Part 2

30Mar09

Background: I got an email from a friend the other day.  It was that poem about all the different ways the government has found to tax us.  (Tax his land, Tax his bed, Tax the table At which he’s fed…)  Then at the end there is this big list of different taxes (44 of them) and commentary to the effect that none of them having existed 100 years ago, we had no national debt, the largest middle class in the world, and “Mom could stay home to raise the kids while Dad earned enough for everyone to get by, and for many, to prosper.”  I got to wondering exactly how much truth existed in this whole diatribe.

In part 1 I raised my issues with the list of taxes that came with the poem, whether they existed 100 years ago, and the existence of the national debt.  Now on to the rest of the claims.

Even I will admit that I will have some trouble debunking the general statement of “largest middle class in the world”.  I am having some trouble finding data on exactly what percentage of Americans were considered middle class in 1909, let alone other countries.  If they are talking sheer numbers of middle-class citizens, it very possibly is true just from the fact that around that time the US was the fourth largest country by population.  It was behind China, British India, and Russia none of which were exactly teeming with middle class citizens. Although with an average income in today’s dollars of around $3000, over 40 percent of all Americans in 1909 had incomes classifying them as POOR.  Over half of American children were living in poverty.

“Mom could stay home to raise the kids . . .”  Check me if I’m wrong, but back in 1909 did she really even have much of a CHOICE to speak of?  Back then it was very unusual for a married woman to work.  Only 6 percent of married women were in the paid work force.  Jobs for women simply didn’t exist the way they do now.

“Dad made enough for everyone to get by, and for many to prosper.”  How many people are really that comfortable with “getting by”?  That means you have a place to live and dinner on the table every night.  Also, expectations were lower.  Since Mom was home all day she cooked dinner and made everyone’s clothes saving money over buying pre-made clothes and eating out in what few restaurants there were.  The Model T Ford was just introduced the year before so you couldn’t take a car ride to the next state for a vacation, let alone an airplane flight.

The average work week was around 66 hours instead of the current 35.  So with both parents working outside the home they are averaging around 70 hours per week now compared to the 66 hours per household 100 years ago.  So the extra 4 hours work out of each household each week is allowing so little as far as advantages: two cars, vacations, not having to make your own clothes, not having to grow your own food, college tuition and health care allowing an average life span of around 78 instead of 50.

So while I will admit and agree that our government taxes many more things than are probably necessary, at rates higher than necessary,  taxes themselves are necessary.  I will leave you with a couple quotes that summarize my thoughts on taxes:

Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.”–Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I like to pay taxes.  With them I buy civilization.”–Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

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