Recently, a friend pointed me to an article that made the rather surprising claim that "by historical standards, what we pay in federal taxes - rich, poor and everyone in between - has gone down."
Surprising, and not true.
I conveniently happened to have a table lying around that shows historical federal tax revenue. In constant 2005 dollars, 50 years ago (in 1960), federal government revenue was $631 billion. In 2010, it was $1,919 billion (i.e. $1.9 trillion) or three times as much. So by historical standards, we're paying a hell of a lot more on average.
There are more people now, so I also did the calculation on a per capita basis. In 1960 the federal government revenue per capita was $3,518, while in 2010, it was $6,215, or nearly double. Again, these are in constant 2005 dollars. I graphed per capita revenue and it basically shows relentless increases in per capita (and total) collected taxes. There is a bit of chop (i.e. the trend is not perfectly smooth), but it's definitely clear what the trend is - up, up, and up.
So while we spend about the same or less per capita for most goods and services due to increasing technology and efficiency, my question is why do we need to be taxed twice as much per person to fund government as we did 50 years ago? Why is the baseline assumption, even among tea partiers, that we should be taxed a constant percent of GDP, which means increasing taxes forever (assuming GDP keeps growing), instead paying the same amount of taxes per person over time (adjusted for inflation, of course)? Why is the base assumption that government should expand (beyond population growth) forever? Do we really need ever more taxation, ever more government regulation, ever more government intrusion, and ever more government redistribution?