It was Tax Day in the U.S. today. That special day of the year when most everyone who had the nerve to earn money in this country had to pay up. It’s likely the day that’s engendered the least charitable feelings of many an American worker for generations.
At least as far back as 1938 the progressive income tax has been griped about in the movies as a cruel reality right up there with death. That’s the year a Frank Capra movie starring Lionel Barrymore, Jean Arthur, and James Stewart called You Can’t Take It With You came to theaters.
One of the best scenes from the movie is a back and forth between Lionel Barrymore and an I.R.S. agent, played by Charles Lane, over what the government uses the income tax revenue for.
The best part is when Barrymore’s character, Mr. Vanderhof, demands to know what his money is specifically paying for:
I.R.S. Agent: Now, Mr. Vanderhof, that’s a serious thing, not filing an income tax return.
Mr. Vanderhof: Now, just suppose I do pay you this money. Mind you, I don’t say that I’m going to, but just for the sake of argument…what’s the government going to do with it?
I.R.S. Agent: What do you mean?
Mr. Vanderhof: What do I get for my money? For instance, if I go into a department store and buy something…there it is. I can see it. But what are they going to give me?
I.R.S. Agent: The government gives you everything. It protects you.
Mr. Vanderhof: From what?
I.R.S. Agent: Invasion. How do you think the government will keep up the Army and Navy… …with all those battleships?
Mr. Vanderhof: Battleships? Last time we used battleships was in the Spanish-American War…and what did we get out of that? Cuba. And we gave that back. Why, I wouldn’t mind paying for something sensible.
I.R.S. Agent: Something sensible! What about Congress and the Supreme Court and the President? We’ve got to pay them, don’t we?
Mr. Vanderhof: Not with my money, no, sir.
Hopefully, watching even a fictional I.R.S. agent getting the runaround from an American screen legend is a little cathartic on this tax day.