No one likes paying taxes, much less the process of filing tax returns. For years, would-be reformers have advocated replacing the return-based mass income tax with a flat tax, federal sales tax, or some combination thereof. Congress itself has commissioned studies on the feasibility of a system of exact withholding. But might the much-maligned return-based taxation method serve an important civic purpose? In "Learning to Love Form 1040", Lawrence Zelenak argues that filing taxes can strengthen fiscal citizenship by prompting taxpayers to reflect on the contract they have with their government and the value - or perceived lack of value - they receive in exchange for their money. Zelenak traces the mass income tax to its origins as a means for raising revenue during World War II. Even then, debates raged over the merits of consumption versus income taxation, as well as whether taxes should be withheld from payroll or paid at the time of filing. The result is the income tax system we have today - one whose maddening complexity, intended to accommodate citizens in widely different circumstances, threatens to outweigh any civic benefits.
Zelenak clears up many common misconceptions and explains how the current system could be simplified to better serve its civic purpose.