Johnson's World: Taxman

Tax Tidbits from the World of Print and Beyond.

April 1, 2014
Steve Johnson10912079

Some print-related (and not) taxing tidbits as April 15 comes and goes:

  • The United States income tax code is, at present, 73,954 pages, up from the 400 pages of the original 1913 tax code. Policies and procedures are important, yes, but unless you want to be as popular as the IRS, keep it simple!
  • 95% of Americans filed their 2012 income tax returns electronically. This includes the 28 percent who hired accountants (who are required to file electronically) and the 1 percent who filed with a cell phone app. Only 5 percent of Americans used the traditional method of ink on paper.
  • The income tax as we know it today began 100 years ago. The form 1040 was four pages long, including an instruction page. Politicians promised that it would never be longer. We may pine for the good old days but a glance at the original tax form reveals it to have been cumbersome and confusing, even back then.
  • As the 1040 grew in size, the “short form” 1040A was introduced. Invariably, the short form grew as well, leading to the introduction of the 1040EZ. What’s next, the 1040TINY?
  • In its heyday, the IRS form 1040 was printed and mailed to every household and was also available by the carton at every Post Office in the nation. The first form 1040 was printed letterpress, then switched to offset as technology changed and quantities skyrocketed. At one point, the Internal Revenue Service mailed 8 billion (with a b) pages of forms each year.
  • The IRS began experimenting with electronic filing in 1986, and mailing of blank forms to taxpayers was discontinued altogether in 2009. Today, the Internal Revenue Service has 1177 forms, many of which are not printed at all. Ironically, tax returns are often still printed, but by the individual taxpayer after filing. They are printed for record-keeping purposes and for transmission of information to third parties.
  • By shifting the burden of printing from the Treasury Department (which paid commercial printers) to the individual citizens, our government has created another hidden tax.
  • “The hardest thing in the world to understand is income taxes," said Albert Einstein, who had no trouble formulating the theory of relativity. Supposedly, Einstein further opined about calculating the income tax: “This is too difficult for a mathematician. It takes a philosopher.”
  • In the 19th century, Siam taxed its citizens directly by making them work three months of the year for the king. This sounds outrageous today, until you consider that Tax Freedom Day (the day on which Americans stop using their income to pay taxes and begin to keep the money they earn) was April 18 in 2013. This means that 21st-century Americans pay half again as much tax as the Siamese peasants did with their forced labor.
  • When George Harrison wrote the song “Taxman,” the Beatles were subject to an income tax rate of 95 percent.
  • Think your taxes are too high? Oil company Exxon Mobil pays about $30 billion (with a b) in taxes each year.
  • A thousand years ago, Lady Godiva rode through town naked to protest a tax increase. On the other hand, low caste women in an area of pre-colonial India had to pay a breast tax if they wanted to cover their chests in public.The tax rate, we are told, varied according to the size and attractiveness of the breasts in question. One can only speculate on the popularity of tax collection as a vocation among young men.
  • Not everyone objects to paying income tax, but everyone seems to think themselves that they pay too much. Some think that “the other guy” is the one who should be paying more. As television personality Arthur Godfrey once declared, “I am proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is I could be just as proud for half of the money.”
  • Tax forms may have gone all electronic. However, if the IRS thinks that you have under-estimated your tax calculations, it will still send you a good, old-fashioned letter of explanation, printed on paper, in an envelope, via the U.S. Postal Service. Some things are just so important that only ink and paper will do!