In 1913, the federal income taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. started as four pages of forms and instructions. Today, the income tax code spans more than 70,000 pages and influences virtually every decision we make. Over the decades, lawmakers have increasingly asked the tax code to direct all manner of social and economic objectives, such as encouraging people to buy hybrid vehicles, turn corn into gasoline, purchase health insurance, buy a home, replace that home’s windows, adopt children, put them in daycare, purchase school supplies, go to college, invest in historic buildings, spend more on research, and the list goes on.
The growth in social and economic policy driven through the tax code has made the IRS a super-agency, duplicating the work of every other cabinet agency, from Energy and Education to HHS and HUD. Were we to start from scratch, we would not want a tax collection agency to perform these functions.
See more charts like this in the second edition of our chart book, Putting a Face on America’s Tax Returns.Share