The Income Tax Has Made More Liars Out of the American People Than Golf Has

Will Rogers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some golfers are not particularly conscientious when counting the number of strokes required to complete a course. A humorist once pointed to another activity that challenges scruples:

The income tax has made liars out of more people than golf.

Do you know the precise phrasing of this quip and the name of the creator?

Quote Investigator: In April 1927 Will Rogers widely syndicated column discussed taxes in the United States. Boldface added to excerpt by QI: 1

The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has. Even when you make one out on the level you don’t know when it’s through if you are a crook or a martyr.

Of course people are getting smarter nowadays; they are letting lawyers, instead of their conscience, be their guide.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In November 1924 Will Rogers employed the joke again in his column: 2

The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has. You should get out a new kind of tax every year or two, so they don’t know how to beat it.

Also, in 1924 Rogers published a compilation of his columns under the title “The Illiterate Digest”. He included the April 1923 column; hence, the joke was further distributed. 3

In 1949 “Collier’s Weekly” printed a piece about the enforcement of income tax collection that mentioned a system called the Audit Control Program (ACP): 4

So whatever your sources of income, whether they are recorded or not, remember ACP will have ways of getting Uncle Sam’s share. And they will be equally adroit in their ability to cope with the deduction side of your tax return. Will Rogers used to say: “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.”

Also, in 1949 “The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations” edited by Evan Esar printed a curious variant attributed to Rogers that replaced “golf” with “gold”: 5

The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than gold has.

In 1962 “The Saturday Review” published a collection of sayings attributed to Will Rogers under the title “A Rogers Thesaurus”. This was a pun on the famous reference called “Roget’s Thesaurus”. Here was one item : 6

(Of the Income Tax) “It has made more liars out of the American people than Golf.”

In conclusion, Will Rogers should receive credit for the quip he published in April 1923. The 1949 joke about “gold” was probably based on a misprint.

Image Notes: Illustration of part of a U.S. tax form.

Notes:

  1. 1923 April 7, The Chattanooga News, Section: Magazine Section, Income Tax Has Made More Liars Out of the American People Than Golf: Helping Girls With Their Income Tax by Will Rogers, Quote Page 5, Column 2, Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1924 November 1, The Richmond Palladium, Well, Send In Your Favorite President by Will Rogers, Quote Page 14, Column 1, Richmond, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1924, The Illiterate Digest by Will Rogers, Chapter: Helping The Girls With Their Income Taxes, Quote Page 72, Albert & Charles Boni, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1949 February 19, Collier’s Weekly, Look Out for the Tax Cops by Harold Wolff, Start Page 16, Quote Page 17, Column 3, Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Unz)
  5. 1949, The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Edited by Evan Esar, Section: Will Rogers, Quote Page 169, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper in 1989 reprint edition from Dorset Press, New York)
  6. 1962 August 25, The Saturday Review, America’s Most Complete Human Document by Cleveland Amory, (Book Review of “Will Rogers: A Biography” by Donald Day), Sidebar: A Rogers Thesaurus, Start Page 14, Quote Page 14, The Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz)