Rushville Republican

February 27, 2013

Stuart: Trivia that’ll really tax you

Don Stuart
Rushville Republican

RUSHVILLE — Did you know the federal income tax was born 100 years ago, in February, 1913, making it waaaaay younger than my kids think I act.

I basically know zilch about the federal tax code, although every year, I’m told the same thing: the IRS will NEVER accept that as an acceptable excuse to not file a tax return.

Certainly there’s a lot that I could know about the tax code, if I wanted to, since I read somewhere that there are over seven million words in our nation’s official tax regulations. Yes, that’s seven million, which, in mathematical jargon, is known as a “really big honkin’ number.” (To cast it in another perspective, seven million is approximately the number of times in a 12-month period that my kids roll their eyes and sigh heavily because I’ve done something “dorky,” like, for example, saying “Hi” to one of their friends.)

I don’t know who actually counted all those words in the tax laws, but thankfully, there are people out there on the world wide web who are dedicated enough to do stuff like that, thus giving me the opportunity to aggregate a bunch of useless trivia about taxes that I hope will make this 2013 tax season one of your merriest and brightest ever.

The first income tax ever was supposedly enacted in 1404 in England, when Henry IV was king. Perhaps relatedly, Henry’s Wikipedia biography says he spent most of his 14-year reign “defending himself against plots, rebellions and assassination attempts.”

I’ll leave it to each individual reader to decide what to make of this tidbit: “In ancient Roman Days, they used to tax urine since it was a highly valued cleaning agent.”

Here’s a quote about taxes that I liked: “People who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes: men and women.”

During World War I, the top US income tax rate was, gulp, 77 percent. Holy King Henry IV!!!!

I’ve read on probably a dozen different websites the factoid that during the reign of Czar Peter the Great of Russia, men had to pay a tax if they wore a beard. Seems kind of unfair doesn’t it? I mean, what about all those Russian women wearing beards?

Peter the Great finally gave up on enforcing this tax, partly because his tax collectors said the collection process was “getting way too hairy,” and partly because everyone wearing a beard had started calling him “Peter the Meh.”

Another pithy quote: A tax loophole is “something that benefits the other guy. If it benefits you, it’s tax reform,” said Russell B. Long, U.S. Senator.

Incidentally, when thinking about Russell B. Long, I wondered just how Long the reach of Russell B. I discovered that he had a lot of power, so much so that the Wall Street Journal once referred to him as “the fourth branch of gummint.” Well, the WSJ didn’t actually print “gummint,” but that’s probably how most of Long’s Louisiana constituents read it.

Long was a specialist on tax law, which enabled him to explain complex concepts of tax reform in simple ways such as this: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fella behind the tree.”

Long was portrayed in the motion picture “JFK” by Walter Matthau, which I mention mainly because if nothing else in this column provides a chuckle, surely you can think of something Walter Matthau once did that will.

Forbes magazine has a contributor named Kelly Phillips Erb, who’s a tax lawyer, and whose motto is, “Paying tax is painful, but reading about it shouldn’t be.” Hmmm, I don’t know about that; Kelly Phillips may be ingesting some Erb, if you know what I mean, especially when you consider this bit of info I learned from her very own Forbes blog: the instructions for the “easiest” individual tax form, the 1040EZ, are 46 pages long. That sounds like a LOT of painful reading to me.

Kelly Phillips Erb apparently reeeaaallly loves taxes, to the point that all of her online resumes and biographical snapshots mention that she’s a member of the “Tax Supper Club of Philadelphia.” Rumor has it this is a group of tax lawyers who meet regularly to quaff pints of ale and sing ancient pub songs extolling the exploits of King Henry IV.