The above 1943 Donald Duck cartoon, The Spirit of ’43, was funded by the Department of the Treasury in 1943. It highlighted a major problem for the Federal government. Prior to World War II very few Americans paid any income tax and there was no withholding. With the increased taxes to pay for World War II, most full time non-agricultural American workers were going to be paying income tax and few were saving to pay the tax bill when it came due.
The solution was obvious: withholding taxes from wages. However, this proposal was very unpopular in Congress, and only passed in 1943 when it was sweetened with tax forgiveness for taxpayers of 75% of the federal income tax incurred in 1942. Sold as a temporary war measure, this “temporary” withholding has been a permanent feature of American life ever since. As Benjamin Franklin sagely noted: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”