Donald Duck, Taxes and You

As I grumbled my way through my taxes this afternoon, I kept thinking of a little gem of a Disney video I stumbled over recently.

The government needed to raise money – lots of money – to keep fighting World War II. Though the federal income tax had been introduced via the 16th Amendment in 1913, the Revenue Act of 1942 raised rates, reduced exemptions and added a 5% “Victory Tax” on all incomes over $624 ($7059 in today’s dollars).

To convince citizens of the need to pay their share, the government hired Disney to make this video. After a strong dose of patriotism, Donald Duck walks through the relatively simple income tax form. In 1942, he made $2501 in income, paying $13 in federal taxes (an effective rate of 0.52% – versus about 21% today).

The narrator stresses, “It’s your privilege – not just your duty – your PRIVILEGE, to help your government by paying your tax, and paying it promptly. Taxes for guns, taxes for ships, taxes for democracy… taxes to beat the Axis!”

After the four minute mark, it starts to get really dark. I could dissect it line by line, but it’s really incredible how the government leveraged war and the defense of democracy as a call for taxation. And remember that Disney produced this!

At the same time, I marvel at how far it’s gone. Taxes are too high in general, but I somewhat prefer my local taxes, where I get a quasi-itemized bill showing how much goes to the city versus the schools versus the forest preserve, etc. (Though I quibble with how it’s spent, at least it’s spent locally, where I can see it in action). But the federal taxes I pay every paycheck and reconcile each spring – with huge sums going to the morasses that are Social Security and Medicare – just make me sick.

And the state… well, Illinois is just a lost cause.

It certainly doesn’t feel like a privilege to pay my taxes.

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One response to “Donald Duck, Taxes and You

  1. I was grumbling through taxes last night. Normally I get to them a lot earlier (February) but I have blissfully postponed it this time around. As I was going through the forms last night, I can tell you that without a shadow of a doubt, at no time did I feel it was a privilege.

    The Disney cartoon (propaganda) is an interesting way of government using a trusted (yet fictional) character like Donald Duck to relay its message. Perhaps using Franklin D. Roosevelt to address the nation on this issue would have seemed too formal and would have not been accepted by the masses, but using a lovable, goofy, talking duck softened the blow. In today’s world, it is the equivalent of calling up Pixar and having them do a similar campaign with Buzz Light Year. I can envision the animated short now…

    As far as seeing where your federal taxes go, there is a an online tool to help you do that. http://www.whitehouse.gov/2011-taxreceipt

    Some categories are broad, such as “Additional Government Programs”, however it does offer a general glimpse into where your money is being spent.

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