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History of Income and Corporate Taxes

You have and will continue to hear a lot of politicians arguing about taxes: what is fair and what is needed to help the economy. John Steele Gordon has a good and brief summary of the history of US income and corporate taxes.  After the Civil War, there was no income tax and a surplus.

After the Civil War, nearly all the wartime taxes—including the nation’s first income tax—were repealed and the federal government relied mostly on the tariff for revenues. It provided the government with more than ample peacetime income. In 1882, the government had revenues of $403 million, but expenses were only $257 million, a staggering budget surplus of nearly 36%. The reason the tariff was so high was, ostensibly, to protect America’s burgeoning industries from foreign competition.

But of course, that changed.

Unfortunately the corporate income tax, originally intended as only a stopgap measure, was left in place unchanged. As a result, for the last 98 years we have had two completely separate and uncoordinated income taxes. It’s a bit as if corporations were owned by Martians, otherwise untaxed, instead of by their very earthly—and taxed—stockholders.

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