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Archive for the ‘IRS’ Category

You won’t know whether to laugh or cry after perusing these stories that will be added to our “great moments in government” collection.

For instance, did you realize that American taxpayers were saddled with the responsibility to micro-manage agriculture in Afghanistan? You’re probably surprised the answer is yes.

But I bet you’re not surprised that the money was flushed down a toilet. Here are some excerpts from a report on how $34 million was wasted.

American agricultural experts who consider soybeans a superfood…have invested tens of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to try to change the way Afghans eat. The effort, aimed at making soy a dietary staple, has largely been a flop, marked by mismanagement, poor government oversight and financial waste, according to interviews and government audit documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. Warnings by agronomists that the effort was unwise were ignored. The country’s climate turns out to be inappropriate for soy cultivation and its farming culture is ill-prepared for large-scale soybean production. Soybeans are now no more a viable commercial crop in Afghanistan than they were in 2010, when the $34 million program got started… The ambitious effort also appears to have been undone by a simple fact, which might have been foreseen but was evidently ignored: Afghans don’t like the taste of the soy processed foods.

Sadly, this $34 million boondoggle is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s been said that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. Well, it’s also the graveyard of tax dollars.

…the project’s problems model the larger shortcomings of the estimated $120 billion U.S. reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, including what many experts depict as ignorance of Afghan traditions, mismanagement and poor spending controls. No one has calculated precisely how much the United States wasted or misspent in Afghanistan, but a…special auditor appointed by President Obama the following year said he discovered nearly $7 billion worth of Afghanistan-related waste in just his first year on the job.

I’m guessing that most of the $120 billion was squandered using traditional definitions of waste.

But using a libertarian definition of waste (i.e., money that the federal government should not spend), we can easily calculate that the entire $120 billion was squandered.

Let’s now discuss another example of American taxpayer money being wasted in other nations. I’ve written previously about the squalid corruption at the Export-Import Bank, but Veronique de Rugy of Mercatus is the go-to expert on this issue, and she has a new article at National Review about “a project in Brazil that, if it goes bust and the Brazilians can’t pay the American contractor, your tax dollars will end up paying for.”

And what is this project?

…an Export-Import Bank–backed deal to build the largest aquarium in South America…the taxpayer exposure is $150,000 per job “supported.” Some people in Brazil are rightly upset about this. The Ex-Im loan may have lower interest rates and better terms than a regular loan, but this is probably money the indebted and poor Brazilian government can’t afford. …a real problem with the Ex-Im Bank: On one hand, it gives cheap money to large companies who would have access to capital markets even in its absence. But on the other hand, it encourages middle-income or poor countries to take on debt that they probably can’t afford, whether the products purchased are “made in America” or not.

Gee, aren’t we happy that some bureaucrats and politicians have decided to put us on the hook for a Brazilian aquarium.

But let’s try to make the best of a bad situation. Here’s a depiction of what you’re subsidizing. Enjoy.

Subsidized by American taxpayers

I hope you got your money’s worth from the image.

Perhaps I’m being American-centric by focusing on examples of bad policies from the crowd in Washington.

So let’s look at an example of government foolishness from Germany. It doesn’t involve tax money being wasted (at least not directly), but I can’t resist sharing this story because it’s such a perfect illustration of government in action.

Check out these excerpts from a British news report on over-zealous enforcement by German cops.

A one-armed man in Germany has received a full apology and refund from the police after an overzealous officer fined him for cycling using only one arm. Bogdan Ionescu, a theatre box office worker from Cologne, gets around the usually cycle-friendly city using a modified bicycle that allows him to operate both brakes – one with his foot. But on 25 March he was pulled over by a police officer who, he says, told him he was breaking the law. Under German road safety rules, bicycles are required to have to have two handlebar brakes. After a long argument at the roadside, the officer insisted that Mr Ionescu’s bike was not roadworthy and issued him with a €25 (£20) fine.

At least this story had a happy ending, at least if you overlook the time and aggravation for Mr. Ionescu.

Our last (but certainly not least) example of foolish government comes from Nebraska, though the culprit is the federal government.

But maybe “disconcerting” would be a better word than “foolish.”

It seems that our friends on the left no longer think that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” In a very troubling display of thuggery, the Justice Department dispatched a bureaucrat to “investigate” a satirical parade float.

Here’s some of what was reported by the Washington Times.

The U.S. Department of Justice has sent a member of its Community Relations Service team to investigate a Nebraska parade float that criticized President Obama. A Fourth of July parade float featured at the annual Independence Day parade in Norfolk sparked criticism when it depicted a zombie-like figure resembling Mr. Obama standing outside an outhouse, which was labeled the “Obama Presidential Library.” The Nebraska Democratic Party called the float one of the “worst shows of racism and disrespect for the office of the presidency that Nebraska has ever seen.” The Omaha World-Herald reported Friday that the Department of Justice sent a CRS member who handles discrimination disputes to a Thursday meeting about the issue. …The float’s creator, Dale Remmich, has said the mannequin depicted himself, not President Obama. He said he is upset with the president’s handling of the Veterans Affairs Department, the World-Herald reported. “Looking at the float, that message absolutely did not come through,” said NAACP chapter president Betty C. Andrews.

If you look at the picture (and other pictures that can be seen with an online search), I see plenty of disrespect for the current president, but why is that something that requires an investigation?

There was plenty of disrespect for the previous president. And there as also disrespect for the president before that. And before that. And before…well, you get the idea.

Disrespect for politicians is called political speech, and it’s (supposedly) protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

That’s even true if the float’s creator had unseemly motives such as racism. He would deserve scorn if that was the case, and parade organizers would (or at least should) have the right to exclude him on that basis.

But you don’t lose your general right to free speech just because you have unpopular and/or reprehensible opinions. And the federal government shouldn’t be doing anything that can be construed as suppressing or intimidating Americans who want to “disrespect” the political class.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of politicized bureaucracy, we have an update to a recent column about sleazy behavior at the IRS.

According to the Daily Caller, there’s more and more evidence of a big fire behind all the smoke at the IRS.

Ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s computer hard drive was “scratched” and the data on it was still recoverable. But the IRS did not try to recover the data from Lerner’s hard drive, despite recommendations from in-house IRS IT experts to outsource the recovery project. The hard drive was then “shredded,” according to a court filing the IRS made to House Ways and Means Committee investigators.

Gee, how convenient.

I used to dislike the IRS because of the tax code. Now I have an additional reason to view the bureaucrats with disdain.

P.P.S. One last comment on the controversy surrounding the parade float. Racism is an evil example of collectivist thinking. But it is also reprehensible for folks on the left to make accusations of racism simply because they disagree with someone.

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In some sense, there’s nothing remotely funny about the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party organizations.

It is disgusting that a powerful arm of the government became a corrupt vehicle for illegal partisan politics.

But it’s better to laugh rather than cry, so let’s enjoy this new video from Remy at Reason TV.

And let’s not forget that the IRS rewarded itself with big bonuses after the scandal!

President Obama infamously claimed there wasn’t a “smidgen” of corruption at the IRS. This Glenn Foden cartoon is the only appropriate response.

P.S. Switching to another topic, I explained recently that the left was wrong about unemployment insurance. The statists told us that paying people to be unemployed wouldn’t increase joblessness, but virtually all the evidence is on the other side.

Now we have even more research emphasizing that point. Here’s a blurb from some new research published by the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

…we find that the extension of unemployment benefits affected the labor market status of long-term unemployed workers in late 2013. Without extended UI benefits, these unemployed workers would have been more likely to be employed, more likely to exit the labor force, and on average 1.9 percent less likely to remain unemployed in the following period. In short, our simulated early termination of the EUC program lowered the unemployment rate by 3 to 5 basis points, suggesting that the December 2013 expiration of the EUC program might have slightly lowered the unemployment rate in early 2014.

However, since most leftists are not very literate about economics, let’s simplify the issue. Maybe they can understand some cartoons. Here are some options from Michael Ramirez, Robert Gorrell, and Chuck Asay, as well as a great Wizard-of-Id parody.

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The internal revenue service has allowed itself to become a tool of the White House. To be more specific, bureaucrats at the tax-collection agency sought to undermine a free and fair political process by stifling political speech. And now the IRS is lying about its activities and trying to cover its tracks.

This should be deeply horrifying to all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or philosophy.

Particularly since the partisan Democrat appointed by Obama to head the IRS refuses to even apologize for the agency’s rogue behavior.

There are several appropriate responses to the IRS scandal, including some genuine budget cuts. But you probably won’t be surprised to learn that some people think the IRS instead should be rewarded with even more money.

Here are some excerpts from a column in today’s Washington Post.

…this is an especially strange time to stick up for the agency, given the suspicious disappearance of a few thousand key e-mails that Congress wants to see. But right now, the IRS desperately needs a champion. …the IRS has been laboring…with fewer resources. Since 2010, when Congress first began hacking away at discretionary spending, the bureau’s funding has fallen 14 percent, in inflation-adjusted terms… These cuts have come even though the agency’s responsibilities and workload have increased, thanks to new laws such as the Affordable Care Act and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act… Now House Republicans want to hobble it even more. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted to slash the bureau’s budget by another $340 million.

It’s true that both Obamacare and FATCA grant new powers and obligations to the IRS, but we can solve that problem by repealing those misguided laws.

But since that won’t happen while Obama is in the White House, let’s consider whether “fewer resources,” “hobble,” and “hacking away” are accurate ways of describing what’s been happening to the IRS’s budget.

The Office of Management and Budget has detailed tables showing spending by agency. And if you look at the administrative portions of IRS spending (culled from lines 2491-2533 of this massive database), it turns out that spending has increased dramatically over time.

Yes, it’s true that IRS spending has declined slightly since 2010, but the agency’s budget is still about twice as big as it was 30 years ago. And these numbers are adjusted for inflation!

In other words, it’s very misleading to focus merely on the post-2010 budgetary data (just as Krugman was being deceptive when he looked only at post-2007 data when writing about Estonia’s economic performance).

Looking at the historical data reveals that the IRS budget is much bigger than it’s been in the past.

There are a couple of additional points in the column that deserve some attention. The author argues that people who care about the budget deficit should be delighted to give more money to the IRS because it produces a “darn good return on investment.”

If you care about narrowing the budget deficit — as Republicans generally say they do — gutting your chief revenue- collection agency makes little sense. …The IRS generates way more money than it spends, after all. For every dollar appropriated to the IRS in the 2013 fiscal year, the agency collected $255, according to the national taxpayer advocate’s office. That’s a darn good return on investment.

Wow, what a scary mindset. Based on this thinking, why don’t we simply give the government carte blanche to seize our bank accounts? After all, they could probably collect hundreds of thousands of dollars for every dollar spent. That would be an even better “return on investment.”

As an aside, this is an example of why I get so agitated when supposed fiscal conservatives focus on deficits and debt. It creates an opening for people who want to push bad policy. But if you focus on the real problem of government spending, that problem disappears.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the column. There’s one other point that cries out for correction. The author claims that a bigger IRS budget will reduce tax evasion and that this will keep tax rates from going higher.

Some of that money comes from going after tax cheats, and…rampant tax evasion has a tendency to drive statutory tax rates higher so that the government can extract more money from those poor saps still obeying the law.

The only problem with this assertion is that it is grossly inconsistent with the facts.

We have very powerful evidence that politicians lowered tax rates during periods when there were substantial flows of money to so-called tax havens.

Why? Because they felt competitive pressure to implement less onerous tax rates in order to keep even more money from escaping.

And now we have strong evidence that tax rates are going up as opportunities to escape bad tax policy have decreased.

Why? Because the politicians now feel that taxpayers have fewer escape options.

To summarize this post, the IRS needs and deserves more money in the same way that Charles Manson needs and deserves a group hug.

Here’s one last bit of humor to augment the cartoons I’ve already included. It’s PG-13, so don’t read too closely if you get easily offended.

P.S. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could junk the tax code and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax? That would eliminate almost every possible conflict with the IRS and also take away the agency’s discretionary power.

Not a bad fantasy to have, at least for a policy wonk.

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When I wrote recently that the IRS was corrupt, venal, and despicable, I didn’t realize that I was bending over backwards to be overly nice.

Every new revelation in the scandal shows that the agency is beyond salvage.

Writing for Real Clear Markets, Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute is appropriately skeptical of the IRS.

Coincidentally, Lerner’s computer crashed 10 days after Congress expressed concern about possible targeting of conservative groups. Emails between January 2009 and April 2011 were lost. Her computer is not available for examination, because it has already been recycled by the IRS. In a further coincidence, or not, a backup tape of agency emails made by the IRS was erased after 6 months. …As Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins said, the story sounds more and more implausible.

Diana then explains why this matters, using Obamacare as an example of why we should worry about a corrupt and politicized IRS.

Why should we care about missing emails from 2009 to 2011? As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a 2013 hearing about Benghazi, “What difference at this point does it make?” It is not just that Americans’ basic trust in the IRS is being called into question. Over the past five years the IRS has been concentrating its power, giving the agency increased opportunities to pick on people and groups it dislikes. …Sarah Hall Ingram, who was commissioner of the IRS’s Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division from 2009 to 2012 during the Lois Lerner scandal, now heads the IRS Affordable Care Act Office. …Do Americans trust the IRS to calculate these subsidies and refunds impartially? The IRS already made a power grab in May 2012 by extending premium subsidies to the 34 states with federal exchanges.

She also points out that the IRS is carrying water for the President’s attempt to stifle opposing views.

…the IRS proposed regulations that would allow the agency to regulate the free speech of President Obama’s political opponents, while leaving the political activities of his friends untouched. …The regulations were targeted at tax-exempt organizations that file under 501(c)(4) of the IRS code… Under the new rules these groups would not be allowed to engage in voter education that mentions a candidate within two months of a general election or one month of a primary. Left untouched by the proposed regulations were unions, which file under 501(c)(5) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute also is not persuaded by the IRS’s deceitful excuses.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the administration have consistently spouted lies and half-truths about the IRS scandal. The latest development in the controversy is that crucial emails have conveniently gone missing – is there any reason to believe that it is, as the administration claims, a mere accident? …This effort to keep conservative 501(c)(4) organizations from attempting to prevent president Obama’s reelection was, of course, hidden from the public. Ms. Lerner was careful to try and structure the IRS’ targeting in such a way that would not be appear to be a “per se political project,” in her own words, and denied in meetings with, and letters to, congressional oversight staff in 2012 that conservative groups were treated exceptionally or that the IRS’ ways of evaluating 501(c)(4)s had ever changed. The claims were false… In her response to a planted question from the audience at an American Bar Association tax conference, Ms. Lerner blamed the targeting of conservative groups on “our line people in Cincinnatti.” This has also turned out to be false. …non-Tea Party groups were never subjected to the same delays and investigations as Tea Party groups were. This once more suggest that obfuscation and dishonesty were central to the IRS’ approach to their targeting practices.

He even crunches some numbers to show that the claims from the IRS are utterly implausible.

It would be very helpful to see what communications took place between IRS officials and other Democrats. And this is where the missing emails come in. …They are gone, they now tell us, hard drives crashed and tapes were erased. Should we believe that? Of the 82 IRS employees tied to the targeting operation, 7 had their email disappear, or 8.5%. According to IRS commissioner John Koskinen, the industry standard is 3 to 5%. Under reasonable statistical assumptions, that makes the IRS scandal disappearance rate about as likely as the emails having been eaten by unicorn, with a probability far smaller than 1%. Given the IRS’ track record in this affair, that is way beyond anything that would justify giving the IRS and Lois Lerner the benefit of the doubt.

Amazingly, 12 percent of Americans believe the IRS. Here’s some polling data that Phil Kerpen shared on his twitter feed.

I’m particularly happy that younger people are more skeptical. They’re more tech-savvy and realize that the IRS’s excuses are a bunch of….well, a bunch of stuff that comes out of male cows.

And here are some good cartoons on the topic, starting with Eric Allie’s gem.

I like how he includes a representative of the 12 percent of deliberately gullible Americans.

And here’s another contribution from Allie.

And here’s Steve Kelley’s cartoon on the topic.

He’s right, needless to say. It would be better if the IRS was merely squandering money rather than seeking to subvert the democratic process.

Last but not least, here’s an evergreen cartoon about the IRS from Glenn McCoy.

Oh, and let’s not forget two other items.

The political hack who now heads the IRS is a partisan leftist.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen contributed more than $85,000 to Democratic candidates and committees…with a $5,000 donation to President Obama in 2012 and $19,000 to the Democratic National Committee from 1988 to 2008.

And the political hack who was forced out of the IRS actually wanted to target a US Senator.

…the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) targeting of conservative individuals includes a sitting United States Senator. According to emails reviewed by the Committee under its Section 6103 authority, …Lois Lerner sought to have Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) referred for IRS examination.

There are more horror stories to share, but this is enough for one day.

Suffice to say, you can understand why my fantasies involve tax reform rather than supermodels.

P.S. I can’t resist one more comment. Don’t forget that the corrupt and partisan IRS is in charge of Obamacare enforcement, but the bureaucrats want to be exempt from that government-run healthcare system. Just like politicians.

The moral of the story: Washington is even worse than you think. It’s a racket for insiders, but a burden for the rest of us.

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Some statements are so lame that they now serve only as punch lines.

Nobody, after all, would ever claim to a teacher that “the dog ate my homework.”

Moreover, surely few if any people ever actually assert to bill collectors that “the check is in the mail.”

And I have to imagine that no guy would be dumb enough to think a girl would fall for the line that “I’ll still love you in the morning.”

But we now have a new champion in the contest for the most laughable and pathetic assertion ever made.

But first some background. Congressional investigators have been trying to figure out the level of criminality and malfeasance in the IRS’s campaign to interfere with the 2012 election by targeting Tea Party groups. Much of the attention has focused on the activities of Lois Lerner, a left-wing ideologue at the center of the scandal.

And it is because of this investigation that we have a winner in the most-preposterous excuse contest. The political hacks at the IRS are now claiming, with straight faces, that they can’t turn over thousands of emails sent and received by Lois Lerner because of a “computer mishap.”

Here’s some of what’s been reported by the Washington Times.

The IRS has told Congress that it has lost some of former employee Lois G. Lerner’s emails from 2009 through 2011, including those she sent to other federal agencies… Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said he was stunned… “The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to congressional inquiries,” Mr. Camp said. “There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.” …the emails lost were “critical years” from the beginning of the targeting of conservative groups.

At this point, I suppose I should acknowledge that there’s an infinitesimally tiny chance that the IRS is being honest. Maybe, just maybe, the IRS’s immense computer infrastructure and multiple levels of redundant back up happened to fail. And, by an amazing coincidence, they can recover everything except the emails from Lois Lerner that were sent at precisely the time she was instrumental in the IRS’s harassment campaign.

Yeah, right, there’s a chance the IRS is being honest. Just like the Nixon White House could have accidentally erased 18-1/2 minutes of tape.

That being said, there’s a chance I’ll be playing center field next month for the New York Yankees. And an even bigger chance that the models from Victoria’s Secret will invite me for a weekend orgy (and just in case the Princess of the Levant is reading this, I naturally would say no).

Let me now detour into the world of public policy.

The IRS’s venal and corrupt behavior is only possible because the tax code is a Byzantine nightmare of about 75,000 pages. And that doesn’t even include all the tax court decisions and IRS letter rulings that also govern the internal revenue code.

It is this thicket of special-interest sleaze that enables hacks like Lois Lerner to wield unjustified power.

So if we want to actually reduce the chances of similar malfeasance in the future, then action is needed.

But I’m not just talking about prison for the crooks who tried to misuse the power of government.

We also need to rip up the internal revenue code and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax.

As you can see in this video, I’m mostly a fan of tax reform because it will help the American economy. But I’m also delighted the flat tax will reduce the discretionary power of politicians and bureaucrats.

In the long run, of course, it would be even better if we shrank the federal government so much that we didn’t need any broad-based tax of any kind.

 

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It’s not as sophisticated as Professor Bryan Caplan’s Purity Quiz and it doesn’t have the simple elegance of the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, but at least you don’t need to answer any questions to see where you stand in this Venn Diagram that my intern shared with me.

We don’t know who created it, but it’s a clever shortcut to help people to identify their philosophical alignment based on what they think are the proper roles of government.

I’ll do a bit of nit-picking later in this column, but my immediate observation is that I belong in the “Minarchism” camp but that I’m willing to settle for “Classical Liberalism.”

Philosophical Circles

Now it’s time to quibble.

1. There’s no scope for federalism in this Venn diagram, and that may affect the answers of some people. I am completely against the notion that Washington should have any role in our education system, for instance, but I wouldn’t lose much sleep if state and local governments operated school choice systems. Does this mean I’m in the “modern conservatism” camp?

2. I’m also not clear why the person who created the Diagram decided that buses and subways are part of “classical liberalism.” I don’t consider transportation to be a core function of the state. Though this may be another issue where federalism plays a role. I’m not going to get overly agitated if the taxpayers of New York City want to tax themselves (and only themselves) to operate mass transit. Just don’t ask me to pay for it.

3. For reasons I’ve explained before, there’s a difference between socialism (government ownership of the means of production) and redistributionism (government taxing some to give things to others). So at the risk of being pedantic, I would reclassify the big red circle as “total statism.”

But let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good. This Venn Diagram/Circle Test is very well done.

P.S. The worst political quiz I ever took was the one that pegged me as a “moderate” with “few strong opinions.”

P.P.S. Reason’s political candidate quiz, by contrast, produced a much more logical conclusion.

P.P.P.S. I’ve written a few times about the politicized corruption at the IRS. Building on recent revelations, Kevin Williamson has a superb column at National Review on this topic.

The first excerpt notes that the IRS engaged in an ideological witch hunt.

…the evidence, now conclusive and irrefutable, that the Internal Revenue Service, under the direction of senior leaders affiliated with the Democratic party, was used as a political weapon from at least 2010 through the 2012 election. …the IRS targeted these conservative groups categorically, regardless of whether there was any evidence that they were not in compliance with the relevant regulations. Simply having the words “tea party,” “patriot,” or “9/12”…in the name was enough. Also targeted were groups dedicated to issues such as taxes, spending, debt, and, perhaps most worrisome, those that were simply “critical of the how the country is being run.” Organizations also were targeted based on the identity of their donors. Their applications were delayed, their managements harassed, and the IRS demanded that they answer wildly inappropriate questions, such as the content of their prayers.

Our second excerpt explains that the witch hunt was directed by partisans in Washington.

…the direction came from Washington and was, in the words of the agency’s own e-mails, “coordinated with” a senior manager there, Rob Choi, director of rulings and agreements. This began at the behest of Democratic officeholders, including Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who requested that the IRS disclose to him information about tea-party groups that it would have been illegal for the IRS to disclose.

In our final excerpt, Kevin explains why this is – or at least should be – very troubling for anyone who thinks America should have the rule of law.

The IRS is not just a revenue agency — it is a law-enforcement agency, a police agency with far greater powers of investigation and coercion that any normal police force. Its actions in this matter are not only inappropriate — they are illegal. Using government resources for political ends is a serious crime, as is conspiring to mislead investigators about those crimes. …The most important question that must be answered in this matter does not involve the misbehavior of IRS officials and Democratic officeholders, though those are important. Nor is it the question of free speech, vital and fundamental as that is. The question here is nothing less than the legitimacy of the United States government. When law-enforcement agencies and federal regulators with extraordinary coercive powers are subordinated to political interests rather than their official obligations — to the Party rather than to the law — then the law itself becomes meaningless, and the delicate constitutional order we have enjoyed for more than two centuries is reduced to a brutal might-makes-right proposition. …The IRS investigation is no mere partisan scandal, but a moral challenge for the men and women who compose the government of this country.

Amen.

Unconstrained government enables corruption and oppression.

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I realize this may be a thought crime by DC standards, but it sure would be nice to eliminate the high tax rates that undermine economic growth and reduce American competitiveness.

At the risk of sharing too much information, I fantasize about a world without the internal revenue code. In addition to getting rid of high tax rates, I also want to abolish the pervasive double taxation of income that is saved and invested.

Tax Code PagesJust as important, I want to wipe out the distorting loopholes that tilt the playing field in favor of politically connected interest groups. And I daydream about how much easier tax day would be if ordinary people didn’t have to figure out how to comply with an ever-changing tax code.

But perhaps you’re a normal person and you don’t dwell on these topics. Your fantasies probably have nothing to do with fiscal policy and instead involve that hottie in your neighborhood.

That’s fine. I’m actually envious of well-adjusted people who don’t fixate on the cesspool of Washington.

But – at the very least – I want you to agree that America needs fundamental tax reform. And to help persuade you,  here are some fresh stories to remind you that the tax code and the IRS are a blight on society.

For instance, how do you feel about the IRS engaging in partisan politics, as reported by the Washington Times.

Even as the IRS faces growing heat over Lois G. Lerner and the tea party targeting scandal, a government watchdog said Wednesday it’s pursuing cases against three other tax agency employees and offices suspected of illegal political activity in support of President Obama and fellow Democrats. …the Office of Special Counsel…said it was “commonplace” in a Dallas IRS office for employees to have pro-Obama screensavers on their computers, and to have campaign-style buttons and stickers at their office. In another case, a worker at the tax agency’s customer help line urged taxpayers “to re-elect President Obama in 2012 by repeatedly reciting a chant based on the spelling of his last name,” the Office of Special Counsel said in a statement. …Another IRS employee in Kentucky has agreed to serve a 14-day suspension for blasting Republicans in a conversation with a taxpayer.

For more information about this nauseating scandal, read the wise words of Tim Carney and Doug Bandow.

Or what about the time, expense, and anxiety that the tax code causes for small businesses? Heck, even the Washington Post has noticed this is a big issue.

More than half of small employers say the administrative burdens and paperwork associated with tax season pose the greatest harm to their businesses, according to a new survey by the National Small Business Association. Forty-seven percent say the actual tax bill hits their companies the hardest. On average, small-business owners spend more than 40 hours — the equivalent of a full workweek — filing their federal taxes every year. One in four spends at least three full weeks on the annual chore. There is also the expense of doing that work. Only 12 percent of employers filed their taxes on their own this year, down from 15 percent last year — and hiring help can be pricey. Half spent more than $5,000 on accountants and administrative costs last year. One in four spent more than $10,000.

I was tempted to say compliance costs add insult to injury, except that understates the problem. Watch this video if you want to understand why the tax code needs to be junked.

And let’s not forget that high tax rates are pointlessly destructive and bad for America. Dozens of companies have redomiciled in other jurisdictions to get out from under America’s punitive corporate tax system. And more are looking at that option. Here are some excerpts from a report in the U.K.-based Financial Times.

Walgreens has come under pressure from an influential group of its shareholders, who want the US pharmacy chain to consider relocating to Europe, in what would be one of the largest tax inversions ever attempted. …The move, known as an inversion, would dramatically reduce Walgreens’ taxable income in the US, which has among the highest corporate tax rates in the world. …In a note last month, analysts at UBS said Walgreens’ tax rate was expected to be 37.5 per cent compared with 20 per cent for Boots, and that an inversion could increase earnings per share by 75 per cent. They added, however, that “Walgreens’ management seems more hesitant to pull the trigger near-term due to perceived political risks.”

By the way, “perceived political risks” is a polite way of saying that the team at Walgreens is worried that the company might be targeted by the crowd in Washington. In other words, it will be attacked if it does the right thing for workers, consumers, and shareholders.

But that’s blaming the victim. All you really need to know is that America’s corporate tax system is so harsh that companies don’t just escape to Ireland, Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, and Bermuda. They even find better fiscal policy in Canada and the United Kingdom!

Last but not least, do you trust the IRS with your confidential financial data? If you answer yes, seek help right away from a mental health professional and check out these stories.

According to the Washington Times:

A new cost-saving computer technology being implemented by the IRS has left the agency vulnerable to hacking, putting taxpayers’ info at risk, an investigative report has found. …although the IRS has developed cybersecurity guidelines, many of the servers aren’t following them, said a report by the agency’s internal watchdog, the Inspector General for Tax Administration. In fact, the servers failed 43 percent of the tests investigators put them through, though they aren’t releasing what those tests and settings are due to security concerns.

According to a Bloomberg report:

A U.S. Internal Revenue Service employee took home a computer thumb drive containing unencrypted data on 20,000 fellow workers, the agency said in a statement today. …The IRS said it’s working with its inspector general to investigate the incident. The IRS statement didn’t say why the incident was discovered now, didn’t include the name of the employee who used the thumb drive and didn’t say whether the employee still works at the IRS.

And National Review has reported:

The Internal Revenue Service stole and improperly accessed 60 million medical records after raiding a California company, according to a legal complaint filed in March with the California superior court for San Diego. …“No search warrant authorized the seizure of these records; no subpoena authorized the seizure of these records; none of the 10,000,000 Americans were under any kind of known criminal or civil investigation and their medical records had no relevance whatsoever to the IRS search.”

So what’s the bottom line? I suppose there are different interpretations, but my view is that the system is irretrievably broken. It needs to be shredded and replaced.

What are the options?

My real fantasy is to have a very small federal government. Then we wouldn’t need a broad-based tax of any kind.

But I also have incremental fantasies. Until we can shrink the federal government to its proper size, let’s at least figure out ways of collecting revenue that are much less destructive and much less unfair.

The flat tax is one possible answer.

I’m also a fan of the national sales tax, though only if we first amend the Constitution to ensure that politicians don’t pull a bait-and-switch and burden us with both an income tax and sales tax!

To be more specific, I’m a fan of the Fair Tax, but only if we make sure that politicians never again have the ability to impose an income tax.

P.S. Since we’re on the subject of taxes, folks in Northern New Jersey, Southern New York, and New York City may be interested in a tax symposium this Thursday at Ramapo College in Mahway, New Jersey. Along with several other speakers, I’ll be pontificating on the following question: “The Income Tax:
Necessary Evil, Or the Root of All Evil?”

The college is convenient to I-287 near the New York/New Jersey border. Say hello if you attend.

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Looking at labor markets, my biggest concern is the drop in labor force participation.

The data from the Labor Department on the employment-population ratio, for instance, suggest a permanent reduction in the share of the population that is working.

And since economic output and living standards ultimately depend on the quality and quantity of labor and capital that is being productively utilized, it obviously is not good news that millions of people are no longer employed.

But if I had to identify a second-biggest concern, it would be the “Europeanization” of long-run unemployment in the United States. Specifically, we have a growing problem of too many people being unemployed for long periods.

I pontificate about this issue in a column for CNN.

…there are almost 4 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months. That’s a big number. What’s disconcerting is that the current long-term unemployment is more serious than in previous economic downturns. Data from previous business cycles show people suffering from long-run joblessness at worst accounted for about 20% to 25% of the unemployed. In recent months, that percentage has jumped to nearly 40% — an all-time record! Indeed, America is beginning to look like Europe. It used to be that long-term unemployment in the U.S. was only a fraction of Europe’s, but the latest data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that the United States has caught up to many of Europe’s welfare states. That’s not a race we want to be part of, much less win.

Here are some charts that illustrate the severity of the problem.

Let’s start with a look at what’s happened over time in the United States.

Long-Run Unemployment as Share of Unemployed

As you can see, the problem of long-run unemployment rises and falls with the business cycle. But during previous recessions, the share of the unemployed who were out of work for more than six months rarely climbed above 20 percent. And then the problem quickly got better once the economy began to recover.

That’s no longer the case. Long-term unemployment peaked at more than 40 percent of overall joblessness between 2010 and 2012. And even though we’ve supposedly been in a recovery since the summer of 2009, that number has fallen to only about 37 percent.

Now let’s compare the data from the United States to the numbers from other developed nations. As you can see, the United States used to have a huge advantage over other industrialized countries, but that gap has almost completely disappeared.

Long-Run Unemployment - US v OECD

We don’t know, to be sure, whether this represents a permanent change. But my concern is that we’re more and more likely to see bad European-type numbers now that we’re enduring European-type economic policies of bigger government and more intervention.

There is an alternative, which I explained in my CNN column, that could improve American labor markets.

…what’s the solution? There’s no silver bullet, but economic growth is the single most important key. …Unfortunately, …we’re still suffering through a sluggish economic cycle. Recent improvements in the overall employment rate are in large part the result of people dropping out of the labor force, and the problem of long-run unemployment has barely budged. To boost employment, we need the kind of strong growth America enjoyed during the Reagan and Clinton years, when millions of new jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell dramatically. To get there, we need a return to the types of free-market policies we got under Reagan and Clinton: a lower burden of government spending and less intervention from Washington.

Seems simple, right? We got good growth and job numbers during the Reagan and Clinton years, so we should replicate those policies.

But that hasn’t been the case. And the problem didn’t start with Obama, though he’s certainly made it worse.

…we’ve been moving in the exact opposite direction. Under both Presidents Bush and Obama, the size and scope of government has expanded, and the United States — which had the world’s third-most free-market economy when Bill Clinton left office — has now dropped to 17th in the Economic Freedom of the World rankings. We also need to make sure the unemployed don’t get lured into long-term dependency. One glaring example of misguided big-government policy is the argument to endlessly extend unemployment benefits. …Moreover, Obama’s proposed hike in the minimum wage…is the equivalent of sawing off the bottom rungs on the economic ladder. Simply stated, businesses create jobs when they think a new employee will help the bottom line. Artificially raising the cost of workers — particularly those with marginal skills — is a recipe for creating more unemployment.

I hate repeating myself, but it bears saying over and over again that the key to prosperity is small government and free markets.

But to the extent we become more like France and less like Hong Kong, we are doomed to get anemic economic performance and fall in the competitiveness rankings.

P.S. On another topic, it pains me to report that one of the worst examples of DC sleaze is about the become law.

The so-called farm bill has cleared Congress after corrupt Democrats seeking more food stamp spending Farm Bill Spendingjoined forces with corrupt Republicans seeking more agri-business welfare.

The invaluable Tim Carney describes the lobbyist feeding frenzy that produced this monstrosity.

A trillion-dollar, pork-filled farm bill stuffed with corporate welfare passed the House last week and cleared the Senate on Tuesday… The bill perpetuates the federal sugar program. Arguably Washington’s least defensible corporate welfare boondoggle, the sugar program keeps out foreign sugar, hiking prices for consumers, killing jobs for candy makers and enriching a few politically connected sugar producers. The farm bill replaces a flawed program of direct payments to farmers with a potentially more wasteful program of subsidized crop insurance, which takes money from taxpayers and gives it to banks and farming businesses. …The bill had its supporters, of course: the agribusiness lobby, the farm-finance lobby, the White House and the Congressional leadership of both parties. …The Ag lobby got what they wanted. The GOP leadership passed its bill. Democrats got their trillion-dollar price tag.

But here’s the part that really gets me pissed.

Lawmakers also stripped out of the final farm bill a provision that would have required congressmen to disclose the farm subsidies they receive from taxpayers.

This Chip Bok cartoon is a good summary of what happened.

Farm Bill Cartoon Bok

Just in case you need a reminder about why the Department of Agriculture should be abolished.

P.P.S. Since we’re sharing bad news, I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know that the new head of the IRS has decided to reward employees by giving them more of our money. Here are some excerpts from a report in the Washington Times.

Citing the need to boost employee morale, the Internal Revenue Service’s new commissioner said Monday that he will pay out millions of dollars in bonuses to agency employees, reversing a decision his predecessor made to save money… The move didn’t sit well with congressional critics who have been stupefied by the agency’s targeting of tea party groups… “It’s hard to think of a group of people less deserving of bonuses than IRS employees. Frankly, this is outrageous,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

Hey, but nothing to worry about.

After all, the President has appointed one of his big donors to investigate whether anybody at the IRS did anything wrong.

And we already know the results of that investigation. As this Jerry Holbert cartoon notes, the President has told us there isn’t a smidgen of corruption.

IRS Musical Cartoon

Gee, I know I’m satisfied with that assurance. After all, the President would never lie to us, would he?

I guess this is what they mean by trickle-down government.

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It’s time to extinguish any lingering Christmas cheer. Today’s topic is over-bearing and tyrannical tax administration.

To be more specific, we’re going to look at the extent to which taxpayers are mistreated during the process of collecting revenue.

Yes, the amount that governments steal from you also is important, but that’s a topic we’ve already discussed on many occasions.

Moreover, we’re not going to focus on the IRS. Yes, the internal revenue service is infamous for its brutal and intrusive tactics. And I’m embarrassed to note that the United States scored very poorly in a Tax Oppression Index prepared by Switzerland’s Institut Constant.

But I want to focus today on places other than Washington. And the good news (at least relatively speaking) is that some countries scored even lower than the United States. The very worst nation was Italy, and you probably won’t be surprised that Germany (the country that figured out a way to use parking meters to tax prostitutes) and France were among the jurisdictions that also ranked below America.

This story from Brittany provides a rather appropriate glimpse at what it’s like to be a taxpayer in France.

For customers at the Mamm-Kounifl concert-café in Locmiquélic, carrying drinks trays and used glasses back to the bar was a polite tradition. But for social security agency URSAFF, it was also an infringement of labour laws because customers were acting like waiters, French local newspaper Le Télégramme reported.

But what’s really amazing is the way in which France’s revenue-hungry bureaucrats “caught” the alleged scofflaws.

“Around half-past midnight, a customer returned a drinks tray. She passed by the bar to go to the toilets. That was when it all kicked off.   My husband was pinned against the glass by a man. A woman leapt on me, showing her ID card and that’s when I realised it was a URSSAF check. They told me I had been caught using undeclared labour,” owner Markya Le Floch told Le Télégramme. …The authorities initially fined the pub owners €7,900 and briefly placed them in police custody. …URSSAF are still pursuing a social case and are now seeking €9,000 due to non-payment of the original fine.

Wow. This may be even more Orwellian than the FDA raid against the Amish farm that was selling unpasteurized milk to consenting adults. Or more absurd than the DEA busting a grandmother for buying cold medicine.

Imagine if the IRS adopted this French policy. If you take your significant other on a fancy date to McDonald’s and then carry your trash to the garbage receptacles, you’ll be guilty of providing “undeclared labor” and the tax police can then decide to impose taxes and fines because there could have been a taxable employee fulfilling that role.

I’m not joking. That seems to be the premise of the case in France.

Let’s now look at how taxpayers are treated by the various states here in America. Using data from the Council on State Taxation, the Tax Foundation has put together a map with grades for each state based on “good government” principles of tax administration.

Tax Administration Map of States

I’m surprised that Maine and Ohio rank so highly, particularly since neither state gets very good grades based on either Tax Freedom Day, aggregate tax burden, or the State Business Tax Climate.

But I’m not surprised that California ranks at the bottom. The state routinely gets bad grades on various measures of fiscal policy. No wonder so much income is moving out of the state. As for Louisiana, I can understand why Governor Jindal is so anxious to get rid of the state income tax.

Though the absence of a state income tax doesn’t guarantee good tax administration. Nevada, for instance, gets a poor grade in the COST survey.

P.S. If you like cartoons mocking California’s tax-and-spend politicians, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. I’ve only shared one French-related cartoon, but you can seem my attempts at humorous captions here, here, and here.

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One of my missions in life is fundamental tax reform. I would like to replace the corrupt internal revenue code with a simple and fair flat tax.

Though what I really want is a tax system that minimizes the damage of extracting money from the productive sector of the economy, so I’ll take any system with a low rate, no double taxation, and no distortionary loopholes.

The national sales tax, for instance, also would be a good option if we can first repeal the 16th Amendment so there’s no risk that politicians would pull a bait and switch and saddle us with both an income tax and a sales tax (and in my ultimate fantasy world, we would shrink the federal government to the size envisioned by the Founding Fathers, in which case we probably wouldn’t need any broad-based tax at all).

While I normally make the economic case for tax reform, there are many reasons to fix our broken tax code.

Many Americans, for instance, are rightfully upset that the tax code is a 76.000-page monstrosity that enables the politically well connected to benefit from special provisions.

So we don’t know if the rich are paying an appropriate amount. Some of them are paying too much because of high rates and double taxation, while some of them are paying too little because they have clever lawyers, lobbyists, and accountants.

In an ideal world, if someone like Bill Gates earns 10,000 times as much as I do, then he should pay 10,000 times as much in tax. That’s a core principle of the flat tax.

But this post isn’t about why we need tax reform to promote economic growth or fairness. Instead, I want to focus on tax reform as a way of reducing welfare fraud. The Treasury Department just released a report acknowledging that the IRS made more than $100 billion of improper “earned income credit” payments over the past decade and that about one-fourth of all such payments are in error.

This Fox News article is a good summary. Here are the key details.

The Internal Revenue Service paid out more than $110 billion in tax credits over the past decade to people who didn’t qualify for them, according to a Treasury report released Tuesday. …IRS inspector general J. Russell George said more than one-fifth of all credits paid under the program went to people who didn’t qualify. …George said in a statement. “Unfortunately, it is still distributing more than $11 billion in improper EITC payments each year and that is disturbing.” …The agency said it prevents “nearly $4 billion in improper claims each year and is committed to continuing to work to reduce improper claims.” The EITC is one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty programs. In 2011, more than 27 million families received nearly $62 billion in credits.

Now some background. The “earned income credit” or “earned income tax credit” is actually an income redistribution scheme operated by the IRS. It’s basically a wage subsidy. If someone earns money (the “earned income” part), the law says the IRS should augment that money with a payment from the government (the “credit” or “tax credit” part).

The key thing to understand, though, is that the EITC is “refundable,” which is the government’s term for payments to people who don’t earn enough to owe any income tax. That’s why it’s primarily an income redistribution program. Only it’s operated by the IRS rather than the Department of Health and Human Service or some other welfare agency.

And when government is giving away other people’s money, there are those who will try to abuse the program. That’s true for corporate welfare, and it’s true for traditional welfare like food stamps. And, as we see from the Treasury report, it’s true for the EITC.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the EITC has a redeeming feature. Some lawmakers realized traditional welfare programs were very destructive because they paid people not to work. The EITC supposedly offsets that perverse incentive because you get the money only because you earn some income.

But now let’s share some additional bad news. The government takes away the EITC once your income reaches a certain level, and this is equivalent to a big increase in the marginal tax rate on earning additional income.

And when you combine the EITC with all the other redistribution programs operated by government, you create a huge dependency trap. Indeed, the chart shows that many of these programs can be larger than the EITC (which is called “negative income tax”).

So let’s adopt a flat tax and get rid of all the bad features of the tax system, including the EITC. Welfare and income redistribution are not proper roles of the federal government.

We’re far more likely to get good results – both for poor people and taxpayers – if we let state and local governments experiment and learn from each other on what actually helps people climb out of poverty.

P.S. I can’t overlook an opportunity to point out that today’s complicated and convoluted tax code is the reason why we have a powerful and intrusive Internal Revenue Service. And never forget that the IRS has a long record of abusive actions.

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President Obama promised he would unite the world…and he’s right.

Representatives from dozens of nations have bitterly complained about an awful piece of legislation, called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), that was enacted back in 2010.

They despise this unjust law because it extends the power of the IRS into the domestic affairs of other nations. That’s an understandable source of conflict, which should be easy to understand. Wouldn’t all of us get upset, after all, if the French government or Russian government wanted to impose their laws on things that take place within our borders?

But it’s not just foreign governments that are irked. The law is so bad that it is causing a big uptick in the number of Americans who are giving up their citizenship.

Here are some details from a Bloomberg report.

Americans renouncing U.S. citizenship surged sixfold in the second quarter from a year earlier… Expatriates giving up their nationality at U.S. embassies climbed to 1,131 in the three months through June from 189 in the year-earlier period, according to Federal Register figures published today. That brought the first-half total to 1,810 compared with 235 for the whole of 2008. The U.S., the only nation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that taxes citizens wherever they reside.

I’m glad that the article mentions that American law is so out of whack with the rest of the world.

We should be embarrassed that our tax system – at least with regard to the treatment of citizens living abroad and the treatment of tax exiles – is worse than what they have in nations such as France.

And while there was an increase in the number of Americans going Galt after Obama took office, the recent increase seems to be the result of the FATCA legislation.

Shunned by Swiss and German banks and facing tougher asset-disclosure rules under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, more of the estimated 6 million Americans living overseas are weighing the cost of holding a U.S. passport. …Fatca…was estimated to generate $8.7 billion over 10 years, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

I very much doubt, by the way, that the law will collect $8.7 billion over 10 years.

And it’s worth noting that President Obama initially claimed that his assault on “tax havens” would generate $100 billion every year. If you don’t believe me, click here and listen to his words at the 2;30 mark.

So we started with politicians asserting they could get $100 billion every year. Then they said only $8.7 billion over ten years, or less than $1 billion per year.

And now it’s likely that revenues will fall because so many taxpayers are leaving the country. This is yet another example of how the Laffer Curve foils the plans of greedy politicians.

You may be tempted to criticize these overseas Americans, but I’ve talked to several hundred of them in the past few years and you can’t begin to imagine how their lives are made more difficult by the illegitimate extraterritorial laws concocted by Washington. Bloomberg has a few more details.

For individuals, the costs are also rising. Getting a mortgage or acquiring life insurance is becoming almost impossible for American citizens living overseas, Ledvina said. “With increased U.S. tax reporting, U.S. accounting costs alone are around $2,000 per year for a U.S. citizen residing abroad,” the tax lawyer said. “Adding factors, such as difficulty in finding a bank to accept a U.S. citizen as a client, it is difficult to justify keeping the U.S. citizenship for those who reside permanently abroad.”

Imagine what your life would be like if you had trouble opening a bank account or conducting all sorts of other financial activities. Things that are supposed to be routine, but are now nightmares.

I collected some of the statements from these overseas Americans. I encourage you to visit this link and get a sense of what they have to endure.

And then keep in mind that all of these problems would disappear if we had the right kind of tax system, such as the flat tax, and didn’t let the tentacles of the IRS extend beyond America’s borders.

P.S. Based on people I’ve met in my international travels, I’d guess that, for every American that officially gives up their citizenship, there are probably a dozen more living overseas who simply drop off the radar screen. Many of these people can’t afford – or can’t stand – to deal with the onerous requirements imposed by hacks, bullies, and lightweights in Washington such as Barbara Boxer.

P.P.S. Remember the Facebook billionaire who moved to Singapore to escape being an American taxpayer? Many of us – including me – instinctively find this unsettling. But if we believe that folks should have the freedom to move from California to Texas to benefit from better tax policy, shouldn’t they also have the freedom to move to another nation?

The same is true for companies.

If our tax law is bad, we should lower tax rates and adopt real reform.

Unless, of course, you think it’s okay to blame the victim.

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There are lots of despicable people in Washington engaged in a lot of unsavory behavior, so it would be very difficult to get agreement if you asked regular people to select the most odious feature of the political class.

HypocrisyMany people would probably choose corruption as the defining characteristic of Washington, and it would be hard to argue with that choice, but I think hypocrisy is an even better choice.

There’s something fundamentally wrong when people push for policies while making sure they don’t have to abide by the results. Yet it happens all the time in government.

1. It galls me that the pro-tax bureaucrats at the OECD get tax-free salaries while pushing for higher taxes on everyone else.

2. Or how about rich left wingers who bleat about compassion but who are stingy with their own money.

3. And the wealthy leftists who use tax havens while trying to deny others from protecting their money.

4. There are members of the Washington elite who don’t have to live under the gun control laws they impose on others.

5. What about the politically connected business types who endorse higher taxes in exchange for favors from Washington.

6. Or the politicians who evade the taxes they impose on ordinary citizens.

7. How about Canadian politicians who support government-run healthcare but then come to America when they need treatment.

8. To close this list on a humorous note, we also have Occupy Wall Street protesters who fight “The Man” while wanting to make “The Man” more powerful.

But if you want a really powerful example of hypocrisy, nothing stands out more than politicians trying to exempt themselves from Obamacare.

Crocodile TearsThey’ve even been complaining that the law is so bad that they may quit their jobs. And they’re so disconnected from reality that they think we’ll be upset at the loss of their “seniority” and “experience” – as if taxpayers value their ability to squander money.

But it’s not just politicians who are being hypocritical. The bureaucrats at the IRS also don’t want to live under Obamacare – even though they’re the ones who will be forcing us to live under that misguided law!

Here are some excerpts from a report in the Washington Examiner.

IRS employees have a prominent role in Obamacare, but their union wants no part of the law. National Treasury Employees Union officials are urging members to write their congressional representatives in opposition to receiving coverage through President Obama’s health care law. …Like most other federal workers, IRS employees currently get their health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which also covers members of Congress. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp offered the bill in response to reports of congressional negotiations that would exempt lawmakers and their staff from Obamacare. …Camp spokeswoman Allie Walker said. “If the Obamacare exchanges are good enough for the hardworking Americans and small businesses the law claims to help, then they should be good enough for the president, vice president, Congress and federal employees,” she also said.

To augment the remarks of Rep. Camp’s spokeswoman, it also would be good to somehow figure out a way to make the lobbyists and other Washington insiders participate in the Obamacare exchanges.

There aren’t many “sure things” in life, but one of them is that Obamacare would be repealed almost instantaneously if the bigwigs in Washington actually had to live under the law designed for peasants like you and me.

Unfortunately, that’s why Congressman Camp’s legislation will never get approved.

So let’s end this post with a bit of dark humor from Bob Gorrell.

Obamacare Cartoon July 2013 6

You can enjoy more Obamacare cartoons by clicking here, herehereherehere, and here.

P.S. For readers in New Jersey (and also New York City), I’ll be speaking this upcoming Wednesday, July 31, at the Friedman Day luncheon sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.

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Exactly three years ago, I posted a simple quiz about libertarians and patriotism.

The two questions in that quiz are illuminating since they highlight how libertarians in some cases may differ from conservatives (click here for more on that issue), but I also included this t-shirt, which seems to capture the mindset of a lot of Americans regardless of their political outlook.

Well, it seems that Mark Twain had the same attitude as the young lady in the photo, at least if we can believe the quote in this Steve Breen cartoon.

Simply stated, our loyalty should be to a set of ideals, not to any particular group of people who happen to hold power.

Patriotism Cartoon

What makes the cartoon so effective, though, is the inclusion of an IRS thug and a snoop from the NSA.

Reminds me of this cartoon about Obama and the Founding Fathers.

But there’s a serious point to discuss. Are we losing our freedoms and giving the state too much power and authority?

According to a recent news report, a former lieutenant colonel for the infamous East German STASI spy agency says the NSA-type snooping ability “would have been a dream come true.”

Wolfgang Schmidt…pondered the magnitude of domestic spying in the United States under the Obama administration. A smile spread across his face. “You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true,” he said, recalling the days when he was a lieutenant colonel in the defunct communist country’s secret police, the Stasi. In those days, his department was limited to tapping 40 phones at a time, he recalled. Decide to spy on a new victim and an old one had to be dropped, because of a lack of equipment. He finds breathtaking the idea that the U.S. government receives daily reports on the cellphone usage of millions of Americans and can monitor the Internet traffic of millions more.

I’ve already written that we do have enemies and that I think it’s okay to spy on those enemies (though I want the government to get judicial approval before spying on Americans).

But I also wrote that spying should be subject to cost-benefit analysis. The NSA info-gathering exercise reminds me of anti-money laundering laws and those laws are a costly failure. They invade our privacy, hurt the poor, impose high regulatory costs, and have little or no impact on underlying crimes.

We also need to be concerned about potential misuse of data, whether by people currently in the government or those that will have access to the information in the future.

This is what worries me the most. Simply stated, I don’t trust people in government. Which, rather ironically, means I’m in agreement with a former STASI bigwig.

Even Schmidt, 73, who headed one of the more infamous departments in the infamous Stasi, called himself appalled. The dark side to gathering such a broad, seemingly untargeted, amount of information is obvious, he said. “It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used,” he said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”

Hmmm… maybe being warned about the risk of unrestrained government by a former communist spy is the modern equivalent of being called ugly by a frog?

In any event, I suppose Herr Schmidt has first-hand knowledge of the danger of giving government too much information.

P.S. Speaking of first-hand knowledge, it’s somewhat amusing that former communists in Russia and current communists in China have told the Europeans that the welfare state breeds too much dependency.

P.P.S. While this post has touched on libertarians and patriotism, fairness requires me to acknowledge that leftist politicians also believe in a form of patriotism.

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The IRS is worthy of scorn. It is a bloated bureaucracy that routinely violates the rights of taxpayers.

But even I didn’t think it was possible for a collection of bureaucrats to display the blithering incompetence necessary to send $46 million of handouts to nearly 24,000 fake returns filed from a single address.

Yes, a single address. I’m not joking. Read these details from MSN…but only if you don’t have high blood pressure.

If you make an oversight while paying your taxes to the IRS, you better believe you’ll be audited, harshly fined, and held completely accountable. Meanwhile, in 2011, the IRS accidentally sent more than $46 million in refunds to 23,994 “unauthorized” alien workers. And they sent it all to one Atlanta address. This is coming to light thanks to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) audit report.

Even I’m amazed, and I have extremely low expectations.

Keep in mind, by the way, that the “refunds” mentioned in the story almost surely aren’t refunds. Instead, they’re “earned income credit” payments, which are a form of income redistribution laundered through the tax code.

I explained back in 2010 how this scam works, and it’s worth noting this is a huge problem – more than $10 billion of fraud each and every year.

The nitwits at the IRS even sends housing tax credit checks to prisoners!

And these are the geniuses in charge of enforcing Obamacare. Hey, what could possibly go wrong?

For Heaven’s sake, let’s rip up the entire tax system and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax.

Or, better yet, let’s shrink the federal government down to the size envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Then we wouldn’t need any broad-based tax.

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What do you do if you’re part of a government bureaucracy that has been caught red-handed engaged in sleazy, corrupt, and (almost surely) illegal targeting of Americans for their political beliefs?

But before you answer, keep in mind that your bureaucracy also has been exposed for wasting huge amounts of money at lavish conferences. What’s the ideal way of dealing with the fallout from that scandal as well?

The answer is simple. Even though you and your pals already are paid more than the peasants in the private sector, give yourself and your cronies giant bonuses!

I’m not joking. Here are some excerpts from an AP report.

The Internal Revenue Service is about to pay $70 million in employee bonuses despite an Obama administration directive to cancel discretionary bonuses because of automatic spending cuts enacted this year, according to a GOP senator. …“The IRS always claims to be short on resources,” Grassley said. “But it appears to have $70 million for union bonuses…” Three congressional committees and the Justice Department are investigating the targeting of conservative groups. And key Republicans in Congress are promising more scrutiny of the agency’s budget, especially as it ramps up to play a major role in implementing the new health care law.

Sort of makes this cartoon self evident.

IRS Trust Cartoon

Indeed, this motivates me to announce “Mitchell’s First Theorem of Government.”

I’ve explicitly expressed this sentiment in the past, and hinted at it here, here, and here.

Now it’s time to make it official.

Mitchell's First Theorem of Government

I hope you’ll agree this is a nice addition to Mitchell’s Golden Rule, Mitchell’s Bleeding Heart Guide, and Mitchell’s Law.

And maybe one of these will catch on and I can be famous like Art Laffer.

P.S. Enjoy some cartoons about the IRS scandals here, here, and here.

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I was thinking of writing something deep and profound, but then I saw this cartoon. For those of us who love the IRS, it’s too good not to share.

IRS Frankenstein Cartoon

Frankenstein periodically appears in political cartoons, including this Glenn Foden IRS cartoon and these Henry Payne cartoons about Romneycare and Obamacare.

Sort of makes you wonder why there’s so much discrimination against the Mummy, Count Dracula and the Werewolf? Maybe we can ask the EEOC to launch an investigation after they’re done trying to coerce businesses into hiring ex-convicts.

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The title of this post is sort of like the age-old question of what came first, the chicken or the egg.

Should we blame politicians for our corrupt, loophole-ridden, abusive tax system?

Or should we focus our ire on the IRS, which seems to go above and beyond the call of duty to oppress innocent people?

I’ve generally directed my hostility to the politicians, but the latest IRS scandal is leading me to reassess my views.

This Lisa Benson cartoon captures the mentality of the tax collection bureaucracy.

Benson IRS Cartoon

The problem isn’t that the IRS wasted money at boondoggle conferences. Every government agency and department pisses away money in a frivolous fashion.

We should be far more worried about the IRS’s callous disregard of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

I’ve said many times that fundamental tax reform is the answer, but that’s only part of the story.

So long as we have a big and bloated government, the politicians are going to want some sort of oppressive bureaucracy to extract several trillion dollars of our money every year.

So if we really want to clip the wings of the IRS, we better figure out how to restore limited, constitutional government.

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Did President Obama and his team of Chicago cronies deliberately target the Tea Party in hopes of thwarting free speech and political participation?

Was this part of a campaign to win the 2012 election by suppressing Republican votes?

Perhaps, but I’ve warned that it’s never a good idea to assume top-down conspiracies when corruption, incompetence, politics, ideology, greed, and self-interest are better explanations for what happens in Washington.

Writing for the Washington Examiner, Tim Carney has a much more sober and realistic explanation of what happened at the IRS.

If you take a group of Democrats who are also unionized government employees, and put them in charge of policing political speech, it doesn’t matter how professional and well-intentioned they are. The result will be much like the debacle in the Cincinnati office of the IRS. …there’s no reason to even posit evil intent by the IRS officials who formulated, approved or executed the inappropriate guidelines for picking groups to scrutinize most closely. …The public servants figuring out which groups qualified for 501(c)4 “social welfare” non-profit status were mostly Democrats surrounded by mostly Democrats. …In the 2012 election, every donation traceable to this office went to President Obama or liberal Sen. Sherrod Brown. This is an environment where even those trying to be fair could develop a disproportionate distrust of the Tea Party. One IRS worker — a member of NTEU and contributor to its PAC, which gives 96 percent of its money to Democratic candidates — explained it this way: “The reason NTEU mostly supports Democratic candidates for office is because Democratic candidates are mostly more supportive of civil servants/government employees.”

Tim concludes with a wise observation.

As long as we have a civil service workforce that leans Left, and as long as we have an income tax system that requires the IRS to police political speech, conservative groups can always expect special IRS scrutiny.

And my colleague Doug Bandow, in an article for the American Spectator, adds his sage analysis.

The real issue is the expansive, expensive bureaucratic state and its inherent threat to any system of limited government, rule of law, and individual liberty. …the broader the government’s authority, the greater its need for revenue, the wider its enforcement power, the more expansive the bureaucracy’s discretion, the increasingly important the battle for political control, and the more bitter the partisan fight, the more likely government officials will abuse their positions, violate rules, laws, and Constitution, and sacrifice people’s liberties. The blame falls squarely on Congress, not the IRS.

I actually think he is letting the IRS off the hook too easily.

But Doug’s overall point obviously is true.

…the denizens of Capitol Hill also have created a tax code marked by outrageous complexity, special interest electioneering, and systematic social engineering. Legislators have intentionally created avenues for tax avoidance to win votes, and then complained about widespread tax avoidance to win votes.

So what’s the answer?

The most obvious response to the scandal — beyond punishing anyone who violated the law — is tax reform. Implement a flat tax and you’d still have an IRS, but the income tax would be less complex, there would be fewer “preferences” for the agency to police, and rates would be lower, leaving taxpayers with less incentive for aggressive tax avoidance. …Failing to address the broader underlying factors also would merely set the stage for a repeat performance in some form a few years hence. …More fundamentally, government, and especially the national government, should do less. Efficient social engineering may be slightly better than inefficient social engineering, but no social engineering would be far better.

Amen. Let’s rip out the internal revenue code and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax.

But here’s the challenge. We know the solution, but it will be almost impossible to implement good policy unless we figure out some way to restrain the spending side of the fiscal ledger.

At the risk of over-simplifying, we will never get tax reform unless we figure out how to implement entitlement reform.

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Notwithstanding the title of this post, this is not a story about a taxpayer fighting against the IRS. If you want that kind of story (and if you have a strong stomach), you can read about how an IRS thug named Robert Norlander tried to ruin the life of a guy named Charlie Engle.

Or, on a lighter note, you can read about Evan Mathis and his “encounter” with the IRS. But that’s not today’s topic either.

Instead, we’re introducing a new political cartoonist named Jim McKee, who came to my attention when a reader recommended his work in the comment section of a post featuring about 10 other cartoons about the IRS scandal.

As you can see from these cartoons, I’m very happy to be introduced to Jim McKee, particularly since he’s generating some great material about the IRS scandal. Let’s start with a cartoon he produced that calls attention to the fact that an IRS hack pleaded the fifth even though taxpayers don’t have similar rights when confronted by tax collectors.

McKee Cartoon 1

And here’s another good one, which reminds me of the Glenn Foden cartoon in this post.

McKee Cartoon 2

By the way, the IRS actually is concerned about its image. This is the bureaucracy, after all, that decided to squander $15 million of our money on a PR campaign.

Anyhow, McKee has given us some very amusing cartoons. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that we have a terrible tax code, which is enforced by some terrible people.

The politicians deserve most of the blame, but you can see from these examples that the IRS bureaucracy deserves scorn.

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Call me perverse, but I’m enjoying this IRS scandal. It’s good to see them suffer a tiny fraction of the agony they impose on the American people.

I’ve already shared a couple of cartoons on the topic, and I also posted a photo from my newest sports hero that captures how most of us feel about the least-favorite part of the federal behemoth.

Now let’s enjoy some additional cartoons. Let’s start with one from Michael Ramirez, which appropriately mocks Obama for saying we shouldn’t fear the government.

IRS Cartoon 10

Here’s Henry Payne’s contribution, which reminds me that the IRS actually expects us to believe they didn’t engage in political bias.

IRS Cartoon 9

And Ken Catalino suggests that the federal government treats Americans with the same suspicion and hostility accorded to terrorists.

IRS Cartoon 8

Though we should be happy that we’re not being targeted for drone attack. At least not yet.

Speaking of targeting, here’s another Catalino cartoon that recreates a meeting at the IRS.

IRS Cartoon 7

I like this Glenn Foden cartoon, if for no other reason that it would be nice to see taxpayers march on Washington to slay the IRS monster.

IRS Cartoon 6

Here’s another Foden cartoon, which I like because it has the same theme as this Jerry Holbert cartoon, showing big government as a destructive and malicious force.

IRS Cartoon 5

These two Eric Allie cartoons (here and here) have a more charitable interpretation, implying that the damage is unintentional.

Here’s another gem from Ramirez, winner of my cartoonist contest.

IRS Cartoon 4

Lisa Benson weighs in with a cartoon on the army of drones. Sort of like this very good Glenn McCoy cartoon.

IRS Cartoon 3

Here’s another cartoon from Henry Payne, showing Obama’s faux scolding of the IRS.

IRS Cartoon 2

Last but not least, this Chuck Asay cartoon may be the best of the bunch. When we get in trouble with the IRS (even if we’ve done nothing wrong), we’re guilty ’til we prove ourselves innocent.

Too bad we can’t exercise our rights, just like the IRS hack who just pleaded the fifth and refused to answer questions about her role in the scandal.

IRS Cartoon 1

Now that I’ve shared all these cartoons, let’s remember that we should assign some of the blame to politicians.

And I’m not referring to the President and the culture of corruption and Chicago-style sleaze that seems to be engulfing the Obama Administration.

I’m talking about the constant legislative tinkering and the 74,000 pages of Byzantine complexity that has been created in the 100 years since the income tax was created.

However, there are many reasons why the IRS bureaucracy deserves scorn.

So let’s pass the flat tax, but never forget that a disproportionate share of bad people seem drawn to government.

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With so many scandals percolating, there are lots of good cartoons being produced.

But I think this Chip Bok gem deserves special praise.

It manages to weave together both the costly Obamacare boondoggle with the reprehensible politicization of the IRS.

So BOHICA, my friends.

IRS Obamacare

If you want other Chip Bok cartoons, click here, here, here, here, here, here (my favorite), here and here.

And for cartoons that mix the IRS and Obamacare, click here, here, and here.

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When I was a little kid, my sports idol was Mickey Mantle.

When I went to college, Herschel Walker was my guy.

Now, I may have to add Evan Mathis to that distinguished list.

Who is Evan Mathis, you ask?

Well, he’s an offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles who played in college for the Crimson Tide of Alabama.

2012 - UGA-BamaSince I’m a Georgia Bulldog, I wouldn’t normally hold someone from ‘Bama in high esteem – especially since I haven’t stopped sulking since the SEC Championship Game. but when someone does something that merits high praise, I’m willing to be ecumenical.

And Evan Mathis passes that test, as explained by NBC Sports.

Already the least popular of the federal governmental agencies, the IRS has taken a significant hit in recent days amid news confirming longstanding beliefs that the U.S.Evan-Mathis-Peeing-IRS-Sign tax department exercised its discretion to conduct audits and generally give folks a hard time with politics in mind. Like most if not all Americans, Eagles offensive lineman Evan Mathis doesn’t like it.  Unlike most if not all Americans, Mathis has opted to make his views known, in an entertaining way. Mathis posted on Instagram a photo of himself in the universal standing pee position by an IRS sign, with the message “Audit this.”

So what message was Mathis trying to send? It’s unclear, but there are many reasons why the IRS deserves scorn.

No wonder I thanked President Obama for unleashing this new scandal and reminding many new people that they should listen to those “voices” who warn about unchecked power in Washington.

P.S. I’m not sure how I’ll react when the IRS resorts to the novel tax-collection tactic that’s being tried in Pakistan.

P.P.S. Maybe Mathis can become a national spokesman for tax reform after he retires from football.

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Last week, while writing about the latest IRS scandal, I noted that the IRS has a long record of abusive actions.

So I wasn’t surprised to learn that it also has politically biased employees.

But some Americans probably are shocked. So I want to be the first to publicly thank President Obama for – at the very least – presiding over a culture that gave IRS bureaucrats the green light to engage in this kind of misbehavior.

Why am I thanking Obama? For the simple reason that this scandal means that more Americans now understand that the IRS is a venal agency. And that presumably means that more Americans now realize we should junk the internal revenue code and implement a simple and fair flat tax.

Since I’m in an expansive and sharing mood, I think we also owe some appreciation to some of the good people who are helping to publicize the IRS’s despicable behavior.

Let’s start with George Will, who is predictably – and bitingly – critical.

…the nature of Barack Obama’s administration is being clarified as revelations about IRS targeting of conservative groups merge with myriad Benghazi mendacities. …we are told that a few wayward souls in Cincinnati, with nary a trace of political purpose, targeted for harassment political groups with “tea party” and “patriot” in their titles.  …Jay Carney, whose unenviable job is not to explain but to explain away what his employers say, calls the IRS’s behavior “inappropriate.” No, using the salad fork for the entree is inappropriate. Using the Internal Revenue Service for political purposes is a criminal offense.

I also like that Will took the opportunity to criticize the worst (or at least close-to-worst) President in American history.

Time was, progressives like the president 100 years ago, Woodrow Wilson, had the virtue of candor: He explicitly rejected the Founders’ fears of government. Modern enlightenment, he said, made it safe to concentrate power in Washington, and especially in disinterested executive-branch agencies run by autonomous, high-minded experts. Today, however, progressivism’s insinuation is that Americans must be minutely regulated because they are so dimwitted they will swallow nonsense. Such as: There was no political motive in the IRS targeting political conservatives.

How painfully true. Sheep are not famous for their intelligence. And as the American people learn to be passively dependent on government, presumably we will acquire more sheep-like characteristics.

But the firestorm of protest leads me to think we’re not at that stage. At least not yet.

The lawless and abusive IRS even got Michael Gerson agitated.

…most Americans, myself included, become libertarians when a policeman is rude and swaggering during a traffic stop. Give me that badge number. It is precisely because police powers are essential to the public good that abusing them is so offensive. The same holds for overzealous or corrupt airport-security agents. And it is doubly true with IRS personnel who misuse their broad and intimidating powers. It is enough to bring out the Samuel Adams in anyone.

And here’s what my colleague Gene Healy wrote about the IRS’s history of political shenanigans.

Past presidents have found the IRS an extremely useful piece of federal machinery for that purpose. A lot of what we know about that sordid history comes from the Senate Select Committee on intelligence abuses, chaired by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, in the mid-’70s. As Chris Hayes wrote in the Nation in 2006, “Church and many Democrats…soon found that presidents of both parties were culpable: “Secret documents obtained by the committee even revealed that the sainted FDR had ordered IRS audits of his political enemies.” In “The Lawless State,” his account of the Church Committee revelations, Morton Halperin noted that “the first organized political ‘strike force’ was formed within the IRS in 1961, and was directed against right-wing political groups.” In this case, I doubt there was ever a JFK or Nixon-style direct command from on high to harass the Tea Party. It’s more likely to be a case of “proactive” bureaucrats inspired by presidential railing against the Tea Party and Citizens United: “Will no one rid me of these meddlesome right-wing freaks?”

Let’s close with a couple of good cartoons.

The first one reminds me of the joke that “Service” is part of the IRS’s name, but only in the way that a bull services a cow.

IRS Tea Party Cartoon 1

The humor is a bit darker in this cartoon, but the message is the same.

IRS Tea Party Cartoon 2

P.S. Since I’m in such a good mood,  I’ll share some of my other IRS humor, including a new Obama 1040 form, a death tax cartoon, a list of tax day tips from David Letterman, a cartoon of how GPS would work if operated by the IRS, an IRS-designed pencil sharpener, two Obamacare/IRS cartoons (here and here), a sale on 1040-form toilet paper (a real product), a song about the tax agency, the IRS’s version of the quadratic formula, and (my favorite) a joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

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I’m happy to bash the IRS, but I usually try to explain that our anger should be focused on the politicians who created the corrupt, 74,000-page tax code.

But sometimes the IRS deserves some negative attention. The tax collection bureaucracy has thieving employees, incompetent employees, thuggish employees, brainless employees, and victimizing employees.

The senior folks at the IRS also deserve scorn for bone-headed decisions such as squandering millions of dollars on a P.R. campaign and a scheme to regulate and control private tax preparers.

Now it seems we have another reason to condemn the tax-collection bureaucracy. The IRS is engaging in Nixon-type political harassment.

Here’s some of what the Associated Press just reported.

The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups.

Heaven forbid somebody self-identify as being patriotic. Obviously a cause for investigation by the IRS.

And it’s rather ironic that the IRS felt compelled to apologize just a few days after President Obama just told us we shouldn’t listen to “voices” telling us that bad things happen in Washington.

But it’s not just that the IRS targeted groups opposing big government. The bureaucrats also violated the rules designed to protect taxpayers from IRS abuse.

…groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said. “That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added.

But you can put your mind at ease because senior IRS officials assure us that the targeting of Tea Party groups had nothing to do with political bias.

Lerner said the practice was…not motivated by political bias. …IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told Congress in March 2012 that the IRS was not targeting groups based on their political views. “There’s absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people” who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman told a House Ways and Means subcommittee.

Just like we’re supposed to believe that political bias had nothing to do with all the IRS harassment of conservative groups during the Clinton years. The message from the elites in Washington is “Nothing to see here, move along.”

But as the Wall Street Journal warned at the time, it seems there is a remarkable lack of curiosity about patterns of IRS abuse.

…once we agree that a politicized IRS is a dangerous thing, it is hard to understand the see-no-evil approach taken by the Congress, the press and the judiciary about serious, current allegations of exactly this. …organizations have been using the Freedom of Information Act to find out if there is anything to the extraordinary run of audits that happened to hit a number of tax-exempt organizations that might reasonably be described as Clinton enemies. …we have lots of Clinton enemies who have suffered actual audits, and very little interest in finding out whether this was simply a massive coincidence or the result of something more sinister.

And now we’re going through the same process again.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s a lesson to be learned about the dangers of giving power to politicians and bureaucrats.

Yet another argument for the flat tax. If there’s no charitable deduction, there’s no opening for a politically biased IRS bureaucracy to investigate and harass non-profit groups because of their philosophical beliefs.

P.S. On a lighter note, here’s the IRS version of the quadratic formula, and a cartoon showing how GPS would work if operated by the IRS.

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I just saw a headline that made me think that libertarian fantasies somehow had turned into reality.

As you can see, 24 IRS employees were just arrested for stealing. But what about the other 105,976 bureaucrats at the Internal Revenue Service who seize our money under the implied threat of violence?

Shouldn’t they be arrested for stealing from us as well?

IRS Employees arrested

But then my bubble burst. The story has nothing to do with the injustice of the internal revenue code and the shakedown of American taxpayers.

It turns out that these IRS bureaucrats were busted for getting unauthorized government handouts.

…authorities say Internal Revenue Service employees in Tennessee were stealing unemployment and other benefits while fully employed. On Thursday, 13 of those employees were indicted on federal charges that they lied to get unemployment, food stamps, welfare and housing vouchers. An additional 11 have been indicted on state charges of theft greater than $1,000.

In other words, these “public servants” were guilty of a form of triple dipping.

  1. They took money from taxpayers as part of their excessive compensation packages.
  2. Their day job was to then enforce a coercive and reprehensible tax system that took money from taxpayers
  3. And they then bilked taxpayers yet again by mooching from various handout programs.

I’m actually surprised that they got arrested. Based on Keynesian economics, they should get medals for “stimulating” the economy.

P.S. All humor aside, non-anarchist libertarians face an interesting mental challenge. Many of them view the tax system as a form of theft. And there’s no question that it is enforced – ultimately – at the point of a gun. But with the exception of anarcho-capitalists, libertarians support the kind of limited government envisioned by the Founding Fathers. So how do you justify the taxes needed to finance that limited public sector? Most people would justify tax systems if they’re the result of a democratic process, but libertarians believe in rights rather than untrammeled majoritarianism. So how can they rationalize taxation? I freely confess that I don’t have the right answer. As I’ve noted before, I’m a practical libertarian, not the theoretical type. My job is to somehow figure out how we can shrink the federal government back to 3 percent of economic output. After that, the theoretical libertarians can figure out the thorny issues.

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For the past 30 or so years, I’ve done my own taxes by hand. I thought this was a good approach because it would help me better understand the practical challenges of the tax code.

Bravest man IRS

Dan Mitchell has dropped out of this contest

But it’s time to confess that I broke down and used Turbotax for yesterday’s tax return.

It’s not that my financial affairs are complicated. I basically get my Cato salary and a bit of income from speeches and articles. But even that became too much of a challenge. The tipping point was the form for Health Savings Accounts. The IRS is yelling at me for how I filled out this form in past years, and I fear that I will be perpetually in their cross hairs without relying on a computer program to avoid mistakes.

To help me deal with yesterday’s traumatic experience, I’m sharing some very good cartoons.

We’ll start with one from Gary Varvel.

IRS Cartoon 1

Sort of the visual version of this letter-to-the-editor.

Our next cartoon, which may be my favorite of the group, is from Glenn McCoy.

IRS Cartoon 2

By the way, if you don’t think the IRS is capable of thuggery, read this horrifying story.

I don’t know Paul Fell’s work, but this next cartoon is a very good introduction.

IRS Cartoon 3

This is the second time the grim reaper has appeared in a cartoon. The first time involved the death tax.

Last but not least, we have a Chip Bok cartoon about tax code complexity.

IRS Cartoon 4

As a bonus, it also features the complexity of Obamacare. If you like cartoons that mix the IRS and Obamacare, check out this classic from Glenn McCoy and this gem by Gary Varvel.

If you still need to be cheered up, here’s some more IRS humor to brighten your day, including the IRS version of the quadratic formula, a new Obama 1040 form, a list of tax day tips from David Letterman, a cartoon ofhow GPS would work if operated by the IRS, an IRS-designed pencil sharpener, a sale on 1040-form toilet paper (a real product), and two songs about the tax agency (here and here),  and a PG-13 joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

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I’m not a big fan of the Internal Revenue Service, though I try to make sure that politicians get much of the blame for America’s convoluted, punitive, and unfair tax code.

Heck, just look at these three images – here, here, and here – and you’ll find startling evidence that politicians make the tax system worse with each passing year.

But there is an office at the IRS that ostensibly exists to defend the interests of taxpayers. The Taxpayer Advocate Service, according to the government website, “an independent organization within the IRS and helps taxpayers resolve problems with the IRS and recommend changes that will prevent the problems.” The head of this office, Nina Olson, has the title of National Taxpayer Advocate.

Sounds good, right?

Well, not so fast. The TAS does some good things, but Ms. Olson spends at least part of her time advocating for the government.

The TAS just released its annual report, and here’s some of what the bureaucracy recommended, according to a Bloomberg story.

Among the other problems Olson identifies in the report are…the underfunding of the Internal Revenue Service… The IRS, which Olson compares to the accounts receivable department of a company, should be fenced off from more budget cuts by Congress, she writes in the report.

Don’t rub your eyes or clean your glasses. You read correctly. The folks at the IRS who supposedly are advocating for you are instead advocating for a bigger IRS budget.

I debunked this silly argument last year, explaining why Congress should reject the Obama Administration’s assertion that more money for the IRS would be an “investment” that would yield big returns.

But I want to be fair. Some of what the TAS does is worth applauding. The report also discusses the grotesque levels of complexity in the code. Here’s more of the Bloomberg story.

TAS IRS ComplexityThe U.S. tax system’s most serious problem is the 4-million-word code’s excessive complexity that makes it tough for taxpayers to comply with and difficult for the government to administer, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson wrote in an annual report to Congress. The tax code cost taxpayers and businesses $168 billion in compliance in 2010… “Lowering rates in exchange for broadening the tax base would be an excellent bargain,” says the report, released today in Washington. “We are confident that in the end, public support for a simpler code will be strong and deep.”

The TAS also produced this very depressing infographic (click to enlarge). It’s absolutely disgraceful that complying with the tax code requires the equivalent of 3 million full-time workers. It’s a vast understatement to call this a counterproductive misallocation of labor.

Or how about the fact that just the guidance for the income tax, when printed out, creates a stack of paper more than 12 inches high? And what about the nauseating little tidbit that the tax code has been changed more than once per day since 2001?

No wonder it’s such a corrupt mess. Isn’t it time we rip up the entire tax code and put in place something simple and fair like a flat tax? Here’s my case for real tax reform.

By the way, I’m also more than willing to replace the tax code with a national sales tax, perhaps something like the Fair Tax. I’m given speeches, testified to Congress, appeared on TV, and done all sorts of things to promote that idea.

But the one huge caveat is that we need to make sure that the politicians don’t pull a bait and switch and stick us with both an income tax and national sales tax. Which is what happened in Europe when governments implemented the value-added tax without repealing income taxes.

That’s why we would first need to get rid of the income tax and repeal the 16th Amendment. But then, because I don’t trust the Supreme Court (gee, I wonder why?), I would also want to replace the 16th Amendment with new language that would be so ironclad that even Chief Justice John Roberts couldn’t fabricate reasons why an income tax could ever return to plague the nation.

But since we can’t even get the votes to approve a watered-down balanced budget amendment, I’m not holding my breath for the day that the Constitution is amended to permanently kill the income tax.

And that’s why I think the flat tax is a safer option.

The worst thing that happens if we get a flat tax is that politicians change their mind and we degenerate back to the current system.

The worst thing that happens if we get a national sales tax is that politicians “forget” to eliminate the income tax, we wind up with both, and become France.

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I used to think this image was a damning indictment of the internal revenue code. Or here’s another chart showing how the tax system has become more convoluted over time.

But this new image may be the most effective of all of them. We don’t know what’s in the other 72,000 pages of tax code, but we’re all familiar with the basic 1040 tax form. Look at what the politicians have done to it over the past several decades.

1040 Instruction graph

The only answer, needless to say, is to throw the entire mess in the trash can and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax.

Here’s my brief explanation of how the flat tax would work and why it’s a good idea.

Tax reform would give us more growth, but it also would reduce one of the major source of corruption in Washington.

It’s also based on the notion that discrimination is wrong and that class-warfare policy should be rejected.

So what’s not to like?

P.S. I always get a lot of email and comments from people who wonder whether we should adopt a national sales tax instead. That’s fine with me, for reasons I explain here, but you better make sure to first amend the Constitution so that scheming politicians don’t pull a bait-and-switch and saddle us with both an income tax and a sales tax.

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I’ve done thorough blog posts highlighting the economic benefits of the flat tax, but I find that most people are passionate about tax reform because they view the current system as being unfair and corrupt.

They also don’t like the IRS, in part because it has so much arbitrary power to ruin lives.

But it’s not just that is has the power to ruin lives. That can be said about the FBI, the DEA, the BATF, and all sorts of other enforcement agencies.

What irks people about the IRS is that it has so much power combined with the fact that the internal revenue code is a nightmare of complexity that can overwhelm even the most well-intentioned taxpayer. Just spend a couple of minutes watching this video if you don’t believe me.

I’ve already shown depressing charts on the number of pages in the tax code and the number of special breaks in the tax law. To make matters worse, not even the IRS understands how to interpret the law. According to a recent GAO report, the IRS gave the wrong answers on matters of tax law more than 530,000 times in 2010.

Yet if you use inaccurate information from the IRS when filing your taxes, you’re still liable. To add insult to injury (or perhaps injury to injury is the right phrase), you’re then guilty until you prove yourself innocent – notwithstanding the Constitution’s guarantee of presumption of innocence.

Now we have some new information showing the difficulty of complying with a bad tax system.

A new report from the Treasury Department reveals that volunteers (who presumably have the best of intentions) make mistakes in more than 50 percent of cases.

Here are some key excerpts from the report.

Of the 39 tax returns prepared for our auditors, 19 (49 percent) were prepared correctly and 20 (51 percent) were prepared incorrectly. The accuracy rate should not be projected to the entire population of tax returns prepared at the Volunteer Program sites. Nevertheless, if the 20 incorrect tax returns had been filed: 12 (60 percent) taxpayers would not have been refunded a total of $3,996 to which they were entitled, one (5 percent) taxpayer would have received a refund of $303 more than the amount to which he or she was entitled, one (5 percent) taxpayer would have owed $165 less than the amount that should have been owed, and six (30 percent) taxpayers would have owed an additional total of $1,483 in tax and/or penalties. …The IRS also conducted 53 anonymous shopping visits during the 2012 Filing Season. Volunteers prepared tax returns for SPEC function shoppers with a 60 percent accuracy rate.

So here’s the bottom line. We have a completely corrupt tax system that is impossibly complex. Yet every year politicians add new provisions to please their buddies from the lobbyist community.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could rip up all 72,000 pages and instead have a simple and fair tax system?

Sadly, tax reform is an uphill battle for four very big reasons.

  • Politicians don’t want tax reform since it reduces their power to micro-manage the economy and to exchange loopholes for campaign cash.
  • The IRS doesn’t want tax reform since there are about 100,000 bureaucrats with comfy jobs overseeing the current system.
  • Lobbyists obviously don’t want to reform since that would mean fewer clients paying big bucks to get special favors.
  • And the interest groups oppose the flat tax because they want a tilted playing field in order to obtain unearned wealth.

But there are now about 30 nations around the world that have adopted this simple and fair system, so reform isn’t impossible. But it will only happen when voters can convince politicians that they will lose their jobs if they don’t adopt the flat tax.

P.S. I’ll also take a national sales tax, like the Fair Tax, as a replacement. But since I don’t trust politicians, that option requires that we first replace the 16th Amendment with something so ironclad that not even Chief Justice John Roberts would be able to rationalize that an income tax was permissible.

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Everyone seems to agree that the Brits have a good sense of humor, and I think you’ll agree if you peruse this modern glossary of financial terms and this example of politically incorrect terrorism humor.

I was wondering whether their use of humor is a defense mechanism to endure the predations of statist politicians such as Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

But then why aren’t the French famous for humor considering they’ve had to deal with Sarkozy and Hollande?

So maybe there’s an alternative explanation for British humor. In any event, we can now add some tax humor to the list. I have no idea who Jeremy Kyle is, but I’m guessing an infamous moocher (sort of like America’s Diaper Man or Germany’s Footless Hans). The other dependents are self explanatory.

Quite clever, sort of like this letter defending drunken sailors from unfair and malicious comparisons.

At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, we do have some very good American tax humor, such as cartoons about the value-added tax that can be seen here, here and here.

There are also lots of jokes at the expense of the IRS, as you can see here, here, here, here, and here.

Also, I suspect this comedian has helped improve awareness of excessive taxation.

And everyone seems to like this beer-centric explanation of the tax system.

Last but not least, we also have the official cigarette of the Obama campaign, as well as cartoons here, here, here and here that mock the President’s class-warfare tax agenda.

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