When people think of tax laws, most conjure unhappy images. These include costs, risks, uncertainty, hassles and pressure. I expect that this negative image even holds true for those people who have received refunds that exceed the taxes that they paid in from “refundable” tax credits such as Making Work Pay (i.e. they got free money from the Federal Government).

If the average American was asked the question “Does the IRS have a sense of humor?” most would answer “absolutely not”. Of course, an English major might point out that the IRS is an organization, not a person (and organizations are not capable of having a sense of humor) and ask that the question be rephrased as “Do IRS employees have a sense of humor?”.

It appears that the IRS (or, as the English majors would clarify, “some people at the IRS”) has the ability to poke a small bit of fun at the tax laws and even acknowledge the negative feelings associated with them.

There is an official IRS publication, on the IRS’ website, with a list of “Tax Quotes”. Of course, the IRS has to qualify the list of quotes with the following introductory disclaimer:

These quotes reflect the opinions of their authors; their inclusion here is not an official IRS endorsement of the sentiments expressed.”

Here is the list of tax quotes published by the IRS with a few annotations by this author in brackets [ ].

Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., U.S. Supreme Court Justice. [I guess you had to expect that the IRS would begin with a quote endorsing the virtues of taxation.]

The power of taxing people and their property is essential to the very existence of government.” — James Madison, U.S. President […reinforced with another quote endorsing the virtues of taxation.]

To tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men.” — Edmund Burke, 18th Century Irish political philosopher and British statesman [Here is where they acknowledge that the IRS can’t be expected to make everyone happy….just as anyone blinded by love, they cannot also be expected to make wise decisions .]

I am proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is – I could be just as proud for half the money.” — Arthur Godfrey, entertainer

People who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes: men and women.” — Unknown

No government can exist without taxation. This money must necessarily be levied on the people; and the grand art consists of levying so as not to oppress.” — Frederick the Great, 18th Century Prussian king [Methinks that the grand art is actually more about the art of deception; making people believe that they are not being oppressed by your political party’s tax proposals but are being oppressed by the other political party’s tax proposals.]

Like mothers, taxes are often misunderstood, but seldom forgotten.” — Lord Bramwell, 19th Century English jurist [Heartwarming!]

The best measure of a man’s honesty isn’t his income tax return. It’s the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.” — Arthur C. Clarke, author

Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is really quite as satisfying as an income tax refund.” — F. J. Raymond, humorist

A tax loophole is “something that benefits the other guy. If it benefits you, it is tax reform.” — Russell B. Long, U.S. Senator

Few of us ever test our powers of deduction, except when filling out an income tax form.” — Laurence J. Peter, author

The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” — Albert Einstein, physicist

Taxation with representation ain’t so hot either.” — Gerald Barzan, humorist

Where there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.” — Plato [I am sure that the IRS could sum this up as “just pay the tax”.]

Income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf.” — Will Rogers, humorist […and the Amended Tax Return is an IRS Mulligan.]



I am sure that given enough time, each taxpayer could come up with their own bit of humor (or at least some bitter irony) associated with our system of taxation. Did you hear the one about the pig farmer and the IRS agent…




Copyright ©, Keith B. Baker – 2011

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