Historic willingness of Americans to pay taxes

I seem to recall reading something once which claimed that during the post WW2 period when Americans were still flush from saving the world, the citizens were more willing to pay federal taxes. I seem to recall that many people willingly paid more than was actually required!! I’ve searched but can’t find anything regarding the historic popularity of taxes that might support or refute this.

Can anybody?

I can’t (and didn’t look… so this is kind of not a GQ response). My observation is that people don’t mind paying for what they consider “just causes.” A lot of the debate (most?) about social welfare programs regards the stereotype of the “welfare mother” (sometimes a valid target, but there are others).

The thought is that (from a centrist perspective), we’ll help you out… but only if you’re willing to take that menial job; hell, you’re poor - that doesn’t mean the rest of us pay all your bills. We’ll help you out, just DO SOMETHING. Kind of like a “parent” with a “lazy kid.”

Which brings up the argument of paternalistic government being contrary to our (allegedly) capitalistic economic structure.

OTOH, I’ve known some folks who are simply unemployable because of their means (growing up poor and being under-educated as a result among them).

Sorry - no definitive answer. I think it’s a slippery slope.

Talk radio has thus far not provided any reliable statistics. :slight_smile:

Here’s a chart showing total federal taxes as a percentage of GDP over the post-WWII years. Generally, it looks like the total percentage has varied from about 14 up to 20. It appears to climb during boom years and drop during recessions, but obviously there are lots of other factors at work as well.

I don’t think there is any way to voluntarily pay extra on your taxes (other than the optional election fund and such) without fudging your return. Every so often when you get rich people advocating higher taxes (like Bill Gates Sr. or Warren Buffett), the question is inevitably asked why they’re not just chipping in more now. Usually the response (among other things) is that there’s no actual mechanism to do so.

I would suspect that then, as now, if you’ve got patriotic fervor and money burning a hole in your pocket, you bought government bonds. If you don’t cash them in or just keep buying new ones with the proceeds, you don’t need to actually profit from them!

Actually, there is a mechanism to send extra money to the Federal Government - You can do it online if you want. Last year, the Treasury collected just under $3 million from this program. Cite.

During the Eisenhower administration, the top marginal rate was 91% and I don’t recall anyone screaming about it, although obviously the really high earners chafed under it. The national debt went from over 100% of GNP to under 50% (I am doing this from memory, so the figures might be off a little) and then under Kennedy there was a general lowering of taxes. I think the top rate dropped to about 70%. It was a period of growing prosperity and income disparity was decreasing.

Everybody remembers it this way today, but in fact there were five recessions between 1945 and 1960.

It’s hard to evaluate the period property because it’s not like any other. We use the 50s as the baseline for “normal” today but it can be argued that in many ways it was the weirdest, most abnormal decade of the century. Because of WWII, America had the greatest industrial might in the world and virtually no damage compared to the others involved. U.S. corporations were needed to supply the post-war growth and rebuilding and they made labor peace after decades of vicious fighting. The baby boom required enormous numbers of new houses, new schools, and food and clothing for children.

The problem was that everybody remembered the bad recession right after WWI and were frightened down to their socks that it would repeat after the far larger buildup of WWII. There was a 1945 recession but the rush to return troops home overwhelmed that. There was another recession in 1949 but the Korean War buildup killed that. The first Eisenhower recession took place right after that War, when the Fed got scared of more inflation and Fed policies caused two more.
All those inflations were mild, more technical contractions in an up and down economy than the bad one we’ve been in, but people at the time probably felt whipsawed by uncertainty. That’s a major reason why those huge labor deals - the ones some people now blame the unions for - were put into place. Everybody wanted security and reassurances about a safe and stable future prosperity. In hindsight, everything takes on a rosy hue. That’s not the way it appeared to people living day by day.

That’s why I find it hard to believe that people were voluntarily paying extra taxes because they were so tra-la-la happy. They had real daily needs for that money and real daily fears about what the future would bring. There was optimism about the future for the first time in memory, but the present was and is always uncertain.

Huh. Whaddyaknow. I like the fact that the donations are tax deductible!

So they give money to charity instead, to support causes they believe in. Same thing only different.

I also suspect in the days of loopholes and lax corporate oversight, many of the 1950’s millionaires never paid the full 90% rate. Your company, for example, could provide car and driver, house, vacations etc. and generally from what I recall, non-cash “benefits” only became taxable in the 1970’s when people began to get concerened about loopholes. (an article on Britain and it’s 83% top tax rate pre-Thatcher, mentioned that rather than give a top engineer a cash raise it was cheaper to provide car and driver. A chauffeur was paid much less that a raise that would give a top earner $10,000 extra in pocket.

Similarly, inquiring whether a benefit was appropriate (like flying in a corporate jet, vacation houses in Florida or Bermuda, having the maintenance depart come over and work on your house) only became relevant when the rules on what big shots could classify as income, vs. stealing from the shareholders - came under more scrutiny.

Sometime this week, somewhere online [I usually scan Washington Post, NYT, Google News and Slate so it was probably in one of these.] ***It was reported as fact that you could not pay extra tax *** but you could send money to some government office. I am thinking they said Secretary of the Treasury office.

regardless of the bad impression made by the New Deal or McCarthy’s revelations on the more traditionally minded people, federal government would not have been seen as a hostile and alien force to a large number of Americans in 1950s, and with good reason.

Things change.

Back in 2000 the Massachusetts state income tax rate was lowered via plebiscite. The ballot campaign was filled with the normal rhetoric that the roughly 1/2% reduction would lead to the imminent collapse of civilization. Thus the old tax rate was left on the tax forms as an optional higher rate that people could pay if they wanted to save the the Massachusetts way of life.

Less than .1% of the people filing a return chose to pay the higher rate each year.

I have no idea if this is still on the tax forms since I moved to a no income tax state, but my understanding was it remained on the tax forms until at least 2006.

It’s still there. I was rather amused when I saw it the first time. Since they ask so nicely, I like to entertain the idea of paying extra if I had plenty of disposable income. Of course if I had more money I’d probably come up with some other reason why I shouldn’t pay any extra…

I don’t think the IRS forces you to take every possible deduction and credit. As far as I can tell, you could decline the standard deduction and itemize with just some trivial donation. Depending on your income tax rate, you could send a few hundred to a few thousand to the US through that mechanism.

It was probably the Slate Explainer column. They said sending extra money to the IRS would just get refunded.