It began with an earthquake. What hit San Francisco in 1906 was one of the worst natural disasters in American history. Once the water mains broke, there was no way to fight the dozens of fires caused by ruptured gas mains, except by dynamiting buildings in the fire’s path, which made things worse. People raced to the San Francisco Bay and boarded ferries to escape the flames. The fires lasted for days. A handful of men rushed to the banks, but before long all that was left of the city’s deposit and lending institutions, aside from rubble and ashes, were their fireproof steel vaults: red hot, smoking, and locked. More than 3,000 people died, including the city’s fire chief, who fell two stories after the dome of the California Hotel crashed into the fire station. Most of the city was destroyed.
Economic aftershocks were felt as far away as London. Twelve insurance companies went bankrupt, and, after a gold shortage and a doomed scheme to corner the copper market, the Knickerbocker, the second-largest trust in New York, failed, setting off the Panic of 1907. The New York Stock Exchange nearly collapsed. So did the United States Treasury.
The Panic of 1907 contributed to the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment, in 1913, which granted Congress the right to levy an income tax, and to the establishment of a central banking system, the Federal Reserve. Both the Sixteenth Amendment and the Federal Reserve turned a hundred years old in 2013.
Constitutional amendments are notoriously difficult to ratify. The Sixteenth Amendment was not. Once it got out of Congress, it passed, handily, in 42 of 48 states, six more than required, and took effect on February 25, 1913. The House voted on an income-tax bill in May; Woodrow Wilson signed it in October. Its highest rate was 7%. The next year, the Bureau of Internal Revenue printed its first 1040. The form was three pages, the instructions just one.
Taxes have got a lot hairier since. The Revenue Act of 1916, anticipating the United States’ entry into the war in Europe, raised taxes on incomes, doubled a tax on corporate earnings, eliminated an exemption for dividend income, and introduced an estate tax and a tax on excess profits. Rates on the wealthiest Americans began to skyrocket, from 7% to 77%, but most people paid no tax at all. By 1918 only about 15% of American families had to pay personal income taxes, and the tax payments of the wealthiest 1% of American families accounted for about 80% of the revenues.
Taxes are what we pay for civilized society, for modernity, and for prosperity. The wealthy pay more because they have benefitted more. Taxes, well laid and well spent, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare. Taxes protect property and the environment; taxes make business possible. Taxes pay for roads and schools and bridges and police and teachers. Taxes pay for doctors and nursing homes and medicine. During an emergency, like an earthquake or a hurricane, taxes pay for rescue workers, shelters, and services. For people whose lives are devastated by other kinds of disaster, like the disaster of poverty, taxes pay, even, for food.
What’s surprising, given how much money and passion have been spent to defeat a broad-based, progressive income tax over the past century, and how poorly it has been defended, is that it has endured. In addition, the IRS which is government agency charged with administering the tax laws and enforcing compliance has become one of the largest and most powerful government agencies.
Let’s face it — everyone in the U.S. is either in tax trouble, on their way to tax trouble, or trying to avoid tax trouble! And it all started with an earthquake in San Francisco.
Tax problems are usually a serious matter and must be handled appropriately so it’s important to that you’ve hired the best lawyer for your particular situation. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Los Angeles, San Diego San Francisco and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income.
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