Quote of the moment: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., on taxes

October 9, 2008

The frequently quotable Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., circa 1930. Edited photograph from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Original photo by Harris & Ewing. LC-USZ62-47817.  Copyright expired.

The frequently quotable Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., circa 1930. Edited photograph from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Original photo by Harris & Ewing. LC-USZ62-47817. Copyright expired.

I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., attributed.  (see Felix Frankfurter, Mr. Justice Holmes and the Supreme Court, Harvard University Press, 1961, page 71.)

Did Holmes say that?

The quote is all over the internet Wednesday, after New York Times op-ed writer Tom Friedman noted it in his column criticizing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for her assertion that paying taxes is not patriotic.

I found reference to the quote in a book about eminent economists, through Google Scholar:

Eminent Economists: Their Life Philosophies
By Michael Szenberg
Published by Cambridge University Press, 1993
320 pages

On page 201, Szenberg refers Holmes’s view of “taxation as the price of liberty.”  In a footnote, he points to Justice Frankfurter’s book.  The quote is dolled up a little.  According to Szenberg’s footnote:

More precisely, he rebuked a secretary’s query of “Don’t you hate to pay taxes?” with “No, young fellow, I like paying taxes, with them I buy civilization.”

Frankfurter is a reliable source.  It’s likely Holmes said something very close to the words Friedman used.

Urge others to buy a chunk of civilization:

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