The IRS and Income Tax: Examining Unintended Consequences and Constitutional Concerns

July 14, 2023 in Columnists, News by RBN Staff


By Peter Serefine



The institution of income tax and the existence of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have been long-standing pillars of the American tax system. However, it is crucial to critically analyze their origins, impact, and compatibility with the principles laid out in our Constitution. In this article, we will delve into the arguments against the IRS and income tax, drawing comparisons to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, Woodrow Wilson’s broken promise, and historical attempts to institute income tax prior to the 16th Amendment.


Unintended Consequences:

When exploring the role of the IRS and income tax, it is important to acknowledge the unintended consequences that have emerged. The complex and ever-changing tax code has created a burdensome system that stifles economic growth, hampers small businesses, and places an excessive administrative burden on taxpayers. Furthermore, the power wielded by the IRS raises concerns about government overreach and the erosion of Individual privacy and property rights.

These unintended consequences can be broadly categorized into economic, administrative, and governmental overreach concerns.

1. Economic Consequences:

  • Burdensome Tax Compliance: The complexity of the tax code places a significant burden on individuals and businesses to understand and comply with its provisions. This leads to substantial costs in terms of time, resources, and professional expertise, diverting resources that could otherwise be used for productive activities.

  • Disincentive to Work and Invest: High income tax rates can create disincentives for individuals to work harder, take risks, and invest in businesses or entrepreneurial endeavors. When a significant portion of one’s income is subject to taxation, it reduces the rewards of individual effort and dampens economic growth.

  • Distorted Economic Behavior: The presence of income tax can lead to behavioral changes aimed at reducing tax liability rather than optimizing economic decisions. This can result in artificial tax shelters, complex schemes, and the allocation of resources based on tax considerations rather than economic efficiency.

2. Administrative Consequences:

  • Compliance Costs and Complexity: The ever-evolving tax code and associated regulations make it challenging for taxpayers to navigate the system. Small businesses, in particular, struggle to comply with the complex tax requirements, diverting time and resources away from their core operations.

  • Tax Evasion and Avoidance: The intricate nature of the tax code creates opportunities for tax evasion and avoidance. Some individuals and corporations may exploit loopholes or engage in fraudulent practices to reduce their tax burden, leading to a loss in government revenue and eroding public trust in the system.

3. Governmental Overreach:

  • Intrusion into Privacy: The collection of personal financial information through income tax reporting raises concerns about the invasion of privacy. The IRS’s broad authority to scrutinize and audit individuals’ financial affairs has led to fears of abuse and overreach in accessing sensitive personal data.

  • Expanding Bureaucracy: The creation and maintenance of the IRS as a large federal bureaucracy have resulted in significant administrative costs. The growth of the agency, coupled with its enforcement powers, has raised concerns about the potential for unchecked power and inefficiency.

  • Mission Creep and Function Creep: Over time, the IRS has expanded its role beyond tax collection and enforcement. It has been entrusted with responsibilities such as implementing aspects of healthcare legislation and administering certain social programs. This expansion of duties raises questions about the appropriate scope and limits of the agency’s authority.

The unintended consequences of the IRS and income tax extend beyond the immediate revenue generation and touch on economic, administrative, and governmental overreach concerns. Recognizing and addressing these consequences is crucial to shaping a tax system that promotes economic growth, respects individual liberty, and adheres to constitutional principles.

Comparison to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto:

Karl Marx, in his Communist Manifesto, advocated for a progressive tax system as a means to achieve income redistribution. The idea was to take from the rich and give to the poor, creating a supposed utopian society. However, such a system runs counter to the principles of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and free-market capitalism that form the bedrock of our Constitution. The implementation of income tax can be seen as a step towards the realization of Marx’s vision.

Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, outlined his vision for a classless society where wealth and resources were shared collectively. One of the key tenets of Marx’s ideology was the idea of income redistribution, wherein the wealthier individuals or classes would be taxed at higher rates to support the less privileged. This progressive taxation system was seen as a means to achieve economic equality and social justice.

The comparison arises when we examine how income tax, in practice, can reflect some aspects of Marx’s vision. Income tax operates on a progressive tax structure, meaning that as income increases, the tax rate also increases proportionally. This system aims to collect a larger share of income from wealthier individuals, ostensibly to fund government programs, public services, and welfare initiatives.

However, from a constitutional and libertarian standpoint, the implementation of income tax raises concerns. While Marx advocated for income redistribution as a means to address socioeconomic inequality, it also undermines individual liberty and personal property rights. By imposing higher tax rates on higher earners, income tax can be seen as a mechanism that penalizes success and discourages individual initiative and wealth creation.

Furthermore, the progressive nature of income tax can create a sense of entitlement and dependency on government support, potentially diluting the principles of self-reliance and personal responsibility. This undermines the foundational values of a free-market capitalist society, where individuals are rewarded for their hard work, ingenuity, and entrepreneurial efforts.

The comparison between income tax and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto brings attention to the potential ideological conflicts and concerns regarding the impact of progressive taxation on individual liberty, personal property rights, and the fundamental principles of a constitutionally-based society.


Woodrow Wilson’s Broken Promise:

During his presidential campaign, Woodrow Wilson promised that income tax would never rise above 2%. Unfortunately, this promise was quickly broken, leading to a steady Increase in tax rates over the years. This demonstrates how once the power to tax income is established, it becomes susceptible to expansion, often to fund government programs and initiatives that exceed the original scope intended. This expansion infringes upon the principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility.

During his 1913 presidential campaign, Woodrow Wilson promised that income tax rates would never rise above 2% for the highest earners. This pledge was made to assure Americans that the income tax would not become an excessive burden on the citizenry and that it would remain within reasonable limits.

However, shortly after the passage of the 16th Amendment, which granted Congress the power to levy an income tax, the rates began to rise significantly. Wilson’s initial promise of a maximum 2% rate was quickly abandoned. Under his administration, income tax rates were increased through subsequent legislation, notably the Revenue Act of 1916, which imposed higher tax rates on higher income brackets.

This broken promise by Wilson illustrates a common concern among critics of income tax and government taxation in general – the potential for tax rates to escalate beyond initial assurances. Once a tax system is established, there is a tendency for rates to rise over time as governments seek to generate more revenue for various programs and initiatives.

The broken promise made by Wilson highlights the challenge of controlling the growth and expansion of taxation once it is instituted. It serves as a cautionary example of how initial assurances can be compromised or disregarded, leading to higher tax burdens on citizens than originally promised.

Once government gains the power to tax, it becomes difficult to restrain its appetite for revenue. The continuous expansion of the tax burden on individuals and businesses stifles economic growth, discourages investment, and limits personal freedom and choice.


Attempts to Institute Income Tax Prior to the 16th Amendment:

It is worth noting that there were efforts to introduce income tax prior to the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913. These attempts faced significant constitutional challenges, with the Supreme Court striking down income tax laws as unconstitutional. The need for a constitutional amendment to authorize income tax highlights the fact that it was not originally considered a power granted to the federal government by the framers. Here are some key details about those attempts:

  1. Civil War Income Tax: During the Civil War, the United States faced significant financial challenges in funding the war effort. In response, Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1861, which included the country’s first federal income tax. This tax was levied on incomes above a certain threshold, initially at a rate of 3% for incomes above $800 per year. The tax was implemented as a temporary measure to meet wartime financial needs.

  2. Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. (1895): The constitutionality of income tax came under scrutiny in the landmark Supreme Court case of Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. In this case, the court ruled that certain forms of income tax, such as taxes on rental income, dividends, and interest, were direct taxes and therefore had to be apportioned among the states based on population. This decision effectively struck down the income tax provisions of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act of 1894, leading to the absence of a federal income tax for several years.

  3. The 16th Amendment: In response to the limitations imposed by the Pollock decision, a movement emerged to establish a constitutional amendment explicitly granting Congress the power to tax income without apportionment among the states. The 16th Amendment was proposed by Congress in 1909 and ratified by the requisite number of states in 1913. This amendment removed the requirement for apportionment and paved the way for the federal government to institute a nationwide income tax.

These attempts to institute income tax prior to the 16th Amendment reflect the evolving views and legal challenges regarding the constitutionality and practicality of taxing income. The Civil War income tax and subsequent court rulings played significant roles in shaping the understanding of income tax at the federal level, culminating in the ratification of the 16th Amendment as a means to provide clearer constitutional authority for the taxation of income.

The 16th Amendment was written specifically to grant the federal government a power that the framers of our republic explicitly did not want it to have.



In analyzing the IRS and income tax, it is essential to weigh the unintended consequences, constitutional concerns, and historical context. While the income tax system has become deeply ingrained in our society, it is essential to engage in a thoughtful examination of its impact on individual liberty, economic prosperity, and adherence to constitutional principles. By questioning the current state of affairs and fostering an informed dialogue, we can strive for a tax system that better aligns with our founding principles and promotes a flourishing society.