I have maintained a rather apolitical stance through all the election hubbub and refrained from posting any comments one way or the other on my Facebook page as many of my friends posted endless streams to support their viewpoint. Some have been unable to let go, even as the election results are cast in stone and the work of running the country goes on. One helpful post appeared (whether he realized it or not), directing the reader to a site that advocates for a national sales tax with some interesting aspects to allow those with little to better afford what they might buy. Within the first site (ah the internet, one thing leads to another and another), I discovered a site that has a wonderful history of the tax system in the United States from European settlement to present-day. I include that link here because it is NOT political and I found it fascinating http://taxhistory.tax.org/
The main reason I suppose that I found it so fascinating is my lack of education in American History. Yes, I took all the required classes, and did well, but much of it was rote memorization of parts of documents, facts and dates, an endless stream of information regurgitated for the instructor with little concern for comprehension. I recall an exit requirement from the eighth grade was to memorize the preamble of the US Constitution. By the end of high school I was memorizing key Supreme Court cases, and a brief one line synopsis of the issue. Little of this gave me an understanding of who we are and how we got here.
In beginning to read the tax history I was immediately confronted with my lack of knowledge in general and resolved before too long that it is time to focus my non-fiction reading on US History. That I know so little and yet consider myself intelligent and fairly well read and well-informed was not so much a shock as a reminder that it in the age of information overload it is easy to focus on the minutia and overlook the big picture which reveals itself to us in the study of the past.
In my short exploration I found that our tax history points to a couple of trends. The first is that taxes have been used to the end of social engineering since their inception, and I suspect I would find that the case even if I continued to trace tax history to the days of the Roman Empire. Second, the opinion of the value of private wealth to the greater society ebbs and flows, often with the overall prosperity or lack of, in those with the least. In times of full employment and wages balanced against cost of goods, personal wealth is more accepted. That taxes have such a consistent history, albeit a roller-coaster ride with the economic times, opened my eyes to another aspect of the axiom “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, George Santayana.
And thus my resolve. Learning our history with an eye to what drove the events will help me to understand the present more clearly when I am able to see the patterns of the past. Perhaps it will also help me temper my reactions to my dear friends who are so insistent in pressing their passionately held beliefs on others.