Buried somewhere between ending slavery and ensuring a woman’s right to vote is one of the most overlooked amendments to our constitution: the 16th. That would be the one that created the instrument by which the federal government has funded everything from the Manhattan Project to the Hoover Dam — the income tax.
And the income tax has had a long history, with the highest marginal rate oscillating up and down depending on the party that was in power at the time or what crisis the country had been facing. At times the “tax the rich” approach has taken hold, while at others the rich have managed to buck paying higher tax rates and cut the top rate significantly.
The end result has been a top tax bracket that has ranged from under 10% to over 90% since its inception, and examining how it rises and falls across different eras can be a fascinating filter through which to view our nation’s history.