By Steven R. Weisman
Reviewed by Gary W. Silverman, CFP®
A book on the history of taxes…yawn. That's what I thought when I opened this book. After all, this was a 400-page history book on taxation. Heck, I don't like reading books about current income taxation. The main reason I chose to review Tax Wars was to give me some background for the college classes I teach. After all, professors are supposed to be full of boring facts. Instead I found myself drawn in and at times even enthralled with Weisman's story-telling of how our income tax came to be. Seriously, this could be a made-for-TV movie with the interaction of politics, personalities, and war.
Admittedly, you are not going to find anything in this book to make you a better planner, investor, or business person. But you will find a great story. If history at all interests you, then I highly recommend this book. After all, it covers a subject that we spend much of our lives dealing with. You will read how the same issues, controversies, and arguments come up over and over again. Like the tide moving in and out from the shore, public opinion, politics, and events keep changing the consensus of what is a fair tax system. In that vein, The Great Tax Wars may be history, but the story is still playing out today.
In telling the story, Weisman isn't just telling us about an evolving tax structure. Indeed, much of this story is the evolution of our political system, our changing social norms, and the emerging of America as a modern country. Integral to the story are the lives of some of the greatest leaders and minds of our country: Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and many others.
Though the book ends with Woodrow Wilson and the end of World War I (with a short epilogue that discusses what happened since), the themes can be seen as clear precursors to the current debate on the income tax system, the question of fairness and wealth redistribution, the pondering on the proper role of federal government, and the ebb and flow of populace ideology. And to me that is the point of reading this book…with the controversy over proper taxation far from over, history has a lot to teach us.
Gary W. Silverman, CFP®, owns a fee-only financial planning firm in Wichita Falls, Texas. He is the host of the television show Falls Informer, editor of the financial newsletter Personal Money Planning, and a frequent contributor to the print and broadcast media. Gary also teaches university courses in finance and management.
Simon & Schuster
$16.00 U.S., $23.00 Canada