Taxes

Americans Wary as Government Reaches Further for Things to Tax

The greedy hand of the state digs deeper into your pockets

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First comes Tax Day, then comes the Tax Grope.

That is the attitude of Americans toward tax authorities. Citizens have resigned themselves to the new rates, official and public, that will apply this year to long-agreed-upon definitions of taxable income. Traditional income is fair game.

The taxpayer is alert, though, to something else: future arbitrary impingement by a tax authority in an unexpected way. Sometimes the intrusion comes from an expected party, more uncomfortable and irritating than fatal. But sometimes, the intrusion shocks either by its scale or because it comes as a total surprise.

The grope image goes back to the revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine, who wrote of "the Greedy Hand of government." Back in the 1960s the business writer John Brooks sketched out the grope concept further, writing of the intruding taxing authority approaching as an unwanted suitor, with a "ghastly expression of benignity."