The Internal Revenue Department notified a United States citizen that his 1959 charitable contributions of $4,559, rental loss of $1,217, and deduction of $1,200 for two dependents, all totaling $6,976, were disallowed in the absence of supporting evidence of entitlement. In fact, the department made an additional tax claim for $1,917. The rental loss had been claimed because the house involved had had no tenants for the year; yet the demand was made: “State full names of persons who occupy your property … and their relationship to you.”

The ominous overtone of this example is the bland assumption that all people are out to swindle the government whenever and wherever possible, that no one is to be trusted, and until and unless proved otherwise, everyone is to be regarded as an unscrupulous cheat, fraud, and liar.

My purpose here is not to argue that such an attitude is not justified. My purpose, rather, is to deplore the fact that it probably is. In the above case the people involved were able to prove their statements. More than this, they are the kind of people who would no more cheat the government than they would rob a church poor box; they would no more knowingly sign a false statement than they would pick a pocket.

There are many such high-principled people. Yet our society is so used to excusing the weaknesses and peccadilloes of its members that it finds it hard to believe the existence of a large group who will “swear to their own hurt and change not.” Modern literature, moving pictures, television, and radio recognize no such phenomenon. It is generally assumed that everyone today smokes, drinks, flirts, and attends cocktail parties; that almost everyone gambles, cheats, is unfaithful in marriage, and takes every ...

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