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Posts Tagged ‘Internal Revenue Service’

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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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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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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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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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 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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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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I thought I despised the IRS, but I’m just an amateur. I’m in Geneva, Switzerland, where I just finished speaking to a group of overseas Americans who have steam coming out of their ears.

These folks are livid with the tax system, thanks to awful policies such as America’s worldwide tax regime and punitive laws such as FATCA.

So let’s ease the pain with some tax humor.

Losing an arm and a leg isn’t much fun, which reminds me that some Congressman (I think) had a very good idea of shifting election day so that it coincides with tax day. Not a bad idea, given the message of the cartoon.

And if you like tax humor, I recommend this IRS pencil sharpener. And for those who don’t mind PG-13 humor, there’s a good joke about the Rabbi and the IRS agent.

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Tax day is just around the corner, and we even get a one-day reprieve since April 15 falls on a Sunday.

And since everyone knows that I’m a big fan of the current tax system and the IRS (speaking of which, here’s a very good joke), let’s celebrate by digging into the Jeff MacNelly archives for these two tax cartoons.

First, here’s what many of us will be doing next weekend. Click to enlarge the cartoon. Every line is worth reading.

It would be nice to have a simple and fair system like the flat tax, requiring a 10-line return that can fit on a postcard. But be wary of some “simple” plans, as shown by Barack Obama’s two-line plan for a flat tax.

And here’s another cartoon showing how tax laws are developed. Very appropriate when you think about the IRS’s proposed interest-reporting regulation or the new FATCA law.

Jeff MacNelly was my favorite political cartoonist during my formative years. Sadly, he passed away far too early.

For good political cartoons today, I recommend starting with Michael Ramirez and Lisa Benson.

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Some of the world’s most disgusting and evil regimes restricted the right to emigrate, including the imposition of exit taxes designed to fleece those who did want to escape.

Given the evils of communism, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Soviet Union had such a policy. Here’s an excerpt from a 1972 story in the Palm Beach Post.

…citizens have been refused permission to leave the Soviet Union unless they pay a new tax… Nearly 500 Jews signed a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim calling the tax an illegal “ransom” and an extreme injustice. Jews trying to emigrate to Israel have been the main victims of the new tax imposed by a decree… However, the tax is applied to anyone trying to emigrate from the Soviet Union.

Not surprisingly, the Nazis also used the same approach. Here are the relevant passages from a report by the World Jewish Congress.

… nearly a third of the German war effort was paid for with money stolen from Jews according a new study about the role of the German Finance Ministry during the ‘Third Reich’. …Ministry officials robbed an estimated 120 billion reichsmarks [the equivalent of nearly US$ 20 billion today] by looting and through stringent confiscation laws. …Tax laws discriminated against Jews from 1934, while some who managed to leave Germany before the Holocaust had much of their wealth seized through an ‘exit tax’.

Unfortunately, exit taxes still exist, and I’m embarrassed to say that the United States is one of the few countries to impose such a levy.

There’s no anti-Semitic motive for the tax. Instead, politicians have imposed exit taxes because some Americans decided to emigrate to jurisdictions with better tax law.  And rather than interpret this as a sign that the tax code was too onerous and should be replaced with something like a flat tax, they decided to enact a law to ransack people as they crossed the border.

But even this reprehensible policy isn’t enough for some of the clowns in Washington. Senator Barbara Boxer, the empty suit from the formerly Golden State, has decided that basic liberties such as the presumption of innocence are an impediment to tax enforcement. As such, she’s attached an odious provision to a transportation bill that would restrict the right to travel.

"Ihren papieren, bitte?"

A bill…that could potentially allow the federal government to prevent any Americans who owe back taxes from traveling outside the  U.S. is one step closer to becoming law. Senate Bill 1813 was introduced back in November by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-LosAngeles)… Section 40304 of the legislation states that any individual who owes more than $50,000 to the Internal Revenue Service may be subject to “action with respect to denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport”. … there does not appear to be any specific language requiring a taxpayer to be charged with tax evasion or any other crime in order to have their passport revoked or limited — only that a notice of lien or levy has been filed by the IRS.

The good news, at least relatively speaking, is that Boxer is only motivated by greed and statism. But the end result is still a reprehensible restriction on the liberty of people disfavored by the ruling elite.

If Barbara Boxer is any sort of example, no wonder California is such a mess, losing jobs and investment to other states.

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I’m rather clueless on matters of popular culture, but I know the IRS is a vicious and needless bureaucracy that plagues the American people (though IRS agents could learn something from their Pakistani counterparts)

So I’m obviously a fan of this song that several people have sent me.

About a month ago, I made fun of the IRS for wanting to squander $15 million of our tax dollars on a PR campaign.  What’s great about this song is that it presumably is akin to a big PR campaign against the IRS jackboots.

And remember, while most of the blame for a terrible tax system should be directed against the clowns in Congress and the White House, the IRS goes above and beyond legislative requirements to hassle and torture Americans. Heck, sometimes it simply decides to ignore the law!

This video has some of the ugly details.

But let’s not end this post on a depressing note. Here’s some 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 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, and (my favorite) a joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

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Early in 2010, I wrote about a reprehensible IRS plan to create a cartel in the tax preparation industry, which would screw small firms and entrepreneurs to help line the pockets of big companies such as H&R Block.

And, earlier this year, I specifically criticized the IRS Commissioner for moving ahead with this scheme, which I also suspect is motivated by a desire on the part of the IRS to have a group of captive tax preparers who will be timid about protecting the interests of taxpayers.

With thuggish moves like that, no wonder the IRS wants to flush $15 million of our tax dollars down the toilet in a futile effort to improve its public image.

But there is some good news. The Institute for Justice has filed suit against the IRS for its disgusting behavior. This video explains.

One point from the video that should be emphasized is that the IRS is taking this step without any congressional authorization or instruction. But if you read this link about an IRS regulation that would force American banks to put foreign law above US law, you’ll know that the tax agency is capable of rogue behavior.

By the way, the Institute for Justice is a great organization that effectively fights for individual rights. Check out this IJ video on asset forfeiture laws (which basically enable stealing by the government).

And since we’re on the topic of theft by government, this IJ video on property rights, eminent domain, and the Kelo decision also is very much worth watching.

P.S. I’m not interested in protecting the interests of the tax preparation industry. Indeed, I want a simple and fair flat tax, which would decimate all tax preparation firms. But I don’t want the thugs at the IRS to decide which firms are allowed to operate.

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This interview with the IRS Commissioner is really irritating. He wants us to believe that all the problems exist because of bad laws enacted by Congress.

I certainly agree that the crowd in Washington is venal, corrupt, and duplicitous. But the IRS takes a bad situation and makes it worse, whether we’re looking at gross abuses of the regulatory process or absurd proposals to squander money on a P.R. campaign to make the agency more cuddly.

So I’m less than overwhelmed by this performance.

Commissioner Shulman also makes reference to a distasteful IRS proposal to regulate the tax preparation industry, which is really a scheme to enrich the big firms like H&R Block at the expense of smaller competitors.

So that’s another black mark against the bureaucracy.

But the most noxious part of the interview is when he admits he has to pay someone to file his tax return and then dodges a question on what could be done to make the system better.

But that’s not surprising. Mr. Shulman oversees a bureaucracy with about 100,000 employees (bigger than the FBI, CIA, and DEA combined), and they obviously wouldn’t want the type of reform that would force them to get jobs in the real world.

But I don’t have any problem with telling the truth. America should have a simple and fair flat tax.

Actually, that’s just an interim step. What we really need is to restore a limited central government, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. That way we wouldn’t need any broad-based tax to finance Washington.

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The overwhelming fiscal policy challenge for America is entitlement programs, as I explain in this set of videos. To protect America from becoming another Greece, we need personal retirement accounts for Social Security. We need vouchers for Medicare. And we need to block-grant Medicaid back to the states.

Real reform can give people more security and save taxpayers by reducing the burden of government spending by trillions of dollars over the next several decades.

But sometimes it is the comparatively tiny bits of spending that effectively illustrate the waste, stupidity, and venality of big government. Lets talk about how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is squandering $15 million in a way that should drive taxpayers ballistic with rage.

Here are some disturbing details from the Wall Street Journal report.

The nation’s tax collector wants a “full service communications and marketing company” to help convey its “corporate vision and goals,” according to a 49-page solicitation sent to 12 agencies. The winner’s duties could include market research, educating the public about new tax provisions, and designing national information campaigns. The one-year contract could be extended for four more years, with a total value of as much as $15 million, the IRS solicitation says. PR firm Porter Novelli has had the contract for four years, but it reached the $17.5 million limit, IRS spokesman Terry Lemons said. …The IRS has relied on Porter Novelli to help inform taxpayers about some new laws and programs. Porter Novelli confirmed that the firm works with the IRS, but declined to comment further. Public relations experts said it would be an attractive challenge, given the agency’s unpopularity. …PR types said it’s technically possible to think of tougher marketing challenges — but not many. “Advancing the interests of the North Korean leadership at the moment would be harder than the IRS,” suggested Matthew Harrington.

Isn’t it wonderful that the IRS isn’t as despised as the North Korean dictatorship! I guess that’s because the North Korean government will sometimes kill you or starve you to death. The IRS, by contrast, only steals your money and occasionally gets you tossed in prison.

To show that I’m a public-spirited person, I’m going to save taxpayers $15 million by giving the IRS two good pieces of advice.

1) Obey the Constitution, which means respecting the presumption of innocence and following the Fourth Amendment’s guidelines about illegal search and seizure. I realize that complicates the job of enforcing a terrible tax code, but the Constitution exists precisely because the Founding Fathers thought some things were more important than “efficient” government.

2) Urge your overseers in the U.S. Congress to junk the internal revenue code and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax. The video below provides a simple explanation.

See how simple that was. No need to throw $15 million down the toilet of some politically connected PR firm.

Enjoy the video.

And here’s another video documenting the onerous compliance burden of the current system and explaining how that flat tax would de-fang the IRS.

Seems like such a good idea that only people who benefit from the current system would be opposed. Unfortunately, that describes the political class, upon which we’re relying to get such reforms.

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Leftists want higher tax rates and they want greater tax compliance. But they have a hard time understanding that those goals are inconsistent.

Simply stated, people respond to incentives. When tax rates are punitive, folks earn and report less taxable income, and vice-versa.

In a previous post, I quoted an article from the International Monetary Fund, which unambiguously concluded that high tax burdens are the main reason people don’t fully comply with tax regimes.

Macroeconomic and microeconomic modeling studies based on data for several countries suggest that the major driving forces behind the size and growth of the shadow economy are an increasing burden of tax and social security payments… The bigger the difference between the total cost of labor in the official economy and the after-tax earnings from work, the greater the incentive for employers and employees to avoid this difference and participate in the shadow economy. …Several studies have found strong evidence that the tax regime influences the shadow economy.

Indeed, it’s worth noting that international studies find that the jurisdictions with the highest rates of tax compliance are the ones with reasonable tax systems, such as Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Singapore.

Now there’s a new study confirming these findings. Authored by two economists, one from the University of Wisconsin and the other from Jacksonville University, the new research cites the impact of tax burdens as well as other key variables.

Here are some key findings from the study.

According to the results provided in Table 2, the coefficient on the average effective federal income tax variable (AET) is positive in all three estimates and statistically significant for the overall study periods (1960-2008) at beyond the five percent level and statistically significant at the one percent level for the two sub-periods (1970-2007 and 1980-2008). Thus, as expected, the higher the average effective federal income tax rate, the greater the expected benefits of tax evasion may be and hence the greater the extent of that income tax evasion. This finding is consistent with most previous studies of income tax evasion using official data… In all three estimates, [the audit variable] exhibits the expected negative sign; however, in all three estimates it fails to be statistically significant at the five percent level. Indeed, these three coefficients are statistically significant at barely the 10 percent level. Thus it appears the audit rate (AUDIT) variable, of an in itself, may not be viewed as a strong deterrent to federal personal income taxation [evasion].

Translating from economic jargon, the study concludes that higher tax burdens lead to more evasion. Statists usually claim that this can be addressed by giving the IRS more power, but the researchers found that audit rates have a very weak effect.

The obvious conclusion, as I’ve noted before, is that lower tax rates and tax reform are the best way to improve tax compliance – not more power for the IRS.

Incidentally, this new study also finds that evasion increases when the unemployment rate increases. Given his proposals for higher tax rates and his poor track record on jobs, it almost makes one think Obama is trying to set a record for tax evasion.

The study also finds that dissatisfaction with government is correlated with tax evasion. And since Obama’s White House has been wasting money on corrupt green energy programs and a failed stimulus, that also suggests that the Administration wants more tax evasion.

Indeed, this last finding is consistent with some research from the Bank of Italy that I cited in 2010.

…the coefficient of public spending inefficiency remains negative and highly significant. …We find that tax morale is higher when the taxpayer perceives and observes that the government is efficient; that is, it provides a fair output with respect to the revenues.

And I imagine that “tax morale” in the United States is further undermined by an internal revenue code that has metastasized into a 72,000-page monstrosity of corruption and sleaze.

On the other hand, tax evasion apparently is correlated with real per-capita gross domestic product. And since the economy has suffered from anemic performance over the past three years, that blows a hole in the conspiratorial theory that Obama wants more evasion.

All joking aside, I’m sure the President wants more tax compliance and more prosperity. And since I’m a nice guy, I’m going to help him out. Mr. President, this video outlines a plan that would achieve both of those goals.

Given his class-warfare rhetoric, I’m not holding my breath in anticipation that he will follow my sage advice.

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The tax code is punitive and corrupt, but the economic damage caused by a bad revenue system is just part of the problem.

Thanks to a punitive “worldwide” approach to taxation, we have needless conflicts with other nations, leading the United States to side with high-tax governments and persecute low-tax nations.

But the impact on civil liberties and constitutional rights may be how the internal revenue code does the greatest damage to America.

In part, this involves the loss of basic rights. Our Constitution, for instances, guarantees the presumption of innocence. But that fundamental freedom has been thrown out the window to help the IRS enforce a bad tax system. If the IRS decides you’ve done something wrong or not coughed up enough cash, you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent.

Now there’s a new – and very disturbing – development. A reckless federal judge has decided to let the IRS go on a fishing expedition of California real estate records because it is theoretically possible that some people haven’t reported information on their tax returns. Here are some details from a report at Forbes.

A federal district court  judge has given the Internal Revenue Service permission to serve a “John Doe” summons on the California State Board of Equalization demanding the names of residents who transferred property to their children or grandchildren for little or no money, from 2005 to 2010. The IRS wants those names as part of a crackdown on what it believes is the widespread failure to file required tax returns when real property is passed between family members. …officials of California’s BOE said state law prohibited them from disclosing the information without a court approved summons. …With a normal summons, the IRS seeks information about a specific taxpayer whose identity it knows.  A John Does summons, by contrast, allows the IRS to get the names of all taxpayers who are members of a certain group.

To put this in context and to understand how sinister this is, imagine if some agency of government decided that to comb through the records of all African-Americans because some blacks commit crime? Or they decided to investigate all Occupy Wall Street protesters because of the crimes committed by some of the campers? Or how about snooping on the private lives of all tea partiers simply because the government doesn’t like dissent?

We would all agree (hopefully!) that these steps would represent unjustified fishing expeditions. And if there is any justice left in our system, the courts would stop the government from infringing our rights.

But, for some reason, the Constitution gets thrown under the bus when it comes to taxation.

The answer, as you hopefully agree, is to rip up the entire tax code and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax. This video explains.

America already has a tax code that ranks in the bottom half of the “tax oppression index.” If we don’t fix the IRS soon, don’t be surprised if we wind up in last place at this rate.

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As this image illustrates, the internal revenue code is a nightmare of complexity.

And this chart shows how Obamacare is turning the health care system into a Byzantine nightmare.

So what happens when you mix bad tax policy and bad health care policy? Well, you get this chart, which shows the maze that small business owners must navigate in order to comply with a new Obamacare tax credit.

Maybe this cartoon was right after all.

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Earlier this year, President Obama’s IRS proposed a regulation that would force banks in America to report any interest they pay to accounts owned by non-resident aliens (that’s the technical term for foreigners who don’t live in the U.S.).

What made this regulation so bizarre, however, is that Congress specifically has exempted these account from taxation for the rather obvious reason that they want to attract this mobile capital to the American economy. Indeed, Congress repeatedly has ratified this policy ever since it was first implemented 90 years ago.

So why, you may be asking, would the IRS propose such a regulation? After all, why impose a regulatory burden on a weakened banking sector when it has nothing to do with enforcing American tax law?

The answer, if you can believe it, is that they want American banks to help enforce foreign tax law. And the bureaucrats at the IRS want to impose this burden even though the regulation is completely contrary to existing U.S. law.

Not surprisingly, this rogue behavior by the IRS already has generated considerable opposition. Senator Rubio has been a leader on the issue, being the first to condemn the proposed regulation.

Both Senators from Texas also have announced their opposition, and the entire Florida congressional delegation came out against the IRS’s regulatory overreach.

And now we have two more important voices against the IRS’s rogue regulation.

The Chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee in charge of the IRS, Congressman Charles Boustany of Louisiana, just sent a very critical letter to Treasury Secretary Geithner, and these are some of his chief concerns.

If the regulation were to take effect, it would not only run counter to the will of the Congress, but would potentially drive foreign investments out of our economy, hurting individuals and small businesses by reducing access to capital.  I write to request that IRS suspend the proposed regulation. …As the Internal Revenue Code imposes no taxation or reporting requirements on this deposit interest, the proposed regulation serves no compelling tax collection purpose.  Instead, it is my understanding that the IRS seeks this new authority to help foreign governments collect their own taxes abroad.  …It is disappointing to see the IRS once again try to impose unnecessary regulations and costs on U.S. banks. To attract investment of foreign dollars into the U.S. economy, the Internal Revenue Code generally exempts these deposits from taxation and reporting requirements.  These foreign investments in turn help to finance a variety of products essential to economic growth, such as small business loans and home mortgages.  Imposing reporting requirements on these deposits through regulatory fiat threatens to drive significant investments out of our economy by undermining the rules Congress has set in place specifically to attract it, and at exactly the time when our economy can least afford it.

But criticism is not limited to Capitol Hill. The Center for Freedom and Prosperity has spearheaded opposition from think tanks, taxpayer organizations, and public policy groups.

And now the business community has become involved. Here’s some of what the Chamber of Commerce recently said, and you can click this PDF file (USCC S1506) to read the entire letter.

Given the fragile state of America’s economic recovery, it is disturbing to see actions by the Treasury that could jeopardize deposits at U.S. banks and credit unions held by nonresident aliens. These deposits, which are not subject to U.S. taxes, are at risk of being abruptly withdrawn and future deposits deterred, which could lead to a reallocation of deposits out of the U.S. banking system and, thus, reduce lending to businesses. Furthermore, complying with the proposed regulation places additional reporting requirements and expenses upon financial firms. Without any real benefit stemming from the collection of this information, imposition of this reporting requirement seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

This may seem like an arcane issue and international tax matters often are not terribly exciting, but a couple of minutes of watching this video will make you realize there are some very important principles at stake.

Only the IRS could manage to combine bad tax policy, bad regulatory policy, bad human rights policy, and bad sovereignty policy into one regulation.

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I’ve shared many examples of IRS humor over the years, including a new Obama 1040 form, 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, and (my favorite) a joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

So you’ll understand why I can’t resist sharing this gem I saw on the TaxProf Blog.

If you want to move from humor to real-world tragedy, watch this video on IRS complexity.

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Senator Rubio continues to impress with his Reagan-like efforts to restrain government and promote growth. His latest initiative is legislation to curtail rogue IRS bureaucrats who are seeking to use regulatory edicts to overturn 90 years of law.

Here are excerpts from a report in The Hill.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and other Senate Republicans on Tuesday introduced a bill aimed at blocking pending regulations that would require banks to report to the Internal Revenue Service all interest deposits paid to nonresident aliens (NRA). Rubio, along with Texas GOP Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, introduced S. 1506 because they believe the pending regulations have the potential to drive billions of dollars of deposits away from U.S. banks. A summary of the bill provided by Rubio’s office argues that this could leave U.S. banks undercapitalized and less able to lend in the U.S. “Simply put, this rule will cause billions of dollars in important NRA deposits to be withdrawn from American banks and invested in countries with less onerous reporting requirements,” the lawmakers state in the bill summary. “A capital flight of any magnitude will hurt the lending capacity of community banks and damage local and state economies — not to mention endanger those who invest in U.S. banks due to corruption, inflation, and violence in their home countries, particularly in nations like Mexico and Venezuela.” The summary also notes that Congress has explicitly exempted NRA deposits from taxation… Rubio’s bill is a companion bill to H.R. 2568, which was introduced by Reps. Bill Posey (R-Fla.), Francisco Canseco (R-Texas), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY).

This may sound like a technical issue, but this video explains why it has huge implications.

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As a Yankees fan, it was particularly exciting that Derek Jeter became only the second player to get his 3000th hit with a home run.

As a student of human nature, it was remarkable that the fan who caught the ball, Christian Lopez, returned it to Jeter instead of selling it for as much as $300,000.

As a libertarian, it is disgusting that the jackboots at the IRS have now gotten involved by threatening to tax Mr. Lopez because the Yankees repaid his generosity with luxury box seat s and signed memorabilia. Here are some of the details from NBC New York.

The tax man may be on the hunt for the super fan who caught Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Christian Lopez, 23, recovered the prized ball his father fumbled after The Captain hammered it into their section of the stands in the third inning of the Yankees’ win over Tampa Bay on Saturday. The Verizon salesman from Highland Mills, N.Y., gave the ball back to Jeter, whom he called an “icon,” and the Yankees lavished a slew of prizes, including luxury box seats for every remaining home game this season and post-season and some signed memorabilia.  Now the IRS wants a piece. The prizes Lopez received are estimated to be worth more than $32,000 — and, like game show contestants, Lopez may have to pay taxes on the gifts and prizes because the IRS considers them income. Some estimate the IRS will put Lopez on the hook for anywhere between $5,000 and $13,000, reports the Daily News.

The only thing missing from this story is whether the thugs at the IRS also plan to tax Jeter for the value of the ball. Actually, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that idea. But, then again, it’s highly unlikely that IRS bureaucrats are reading a blog dedicated to liberty.

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Read it and weep. Or maybe I should say look at it and weep.

I suppose this is a good time to recycle my flat tax video. I don’t mention this in the video, but Hong Kong’s flat tax system, which has been around for more than 60 years, requires less than 200 pages. Slovakia’s flat tax law is thinner than a magazine.

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There hasn’t been much good economic news in recent years, but one bright spot for the economy is that the United States is a haven for foreign investors and this has helped attract more than $10 trillion to American capital markets according to Commerce Department data.

These funds are hugely important for the health of the U.S. financial sector and are a critical source of funds for new job creation and other forms of investment.

This is a credit to the competitiveness of American banks and other financial institutions, but we also should give credit to politicians. For more than 90 years, Congress has approved and maintained laws to attract investment from overseas. As a general rule, foreigners are not taxed on interest they earn in America. Moreover, by not requiring it to be reported to the IRS, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have effectively blocked foreign governments from taxing this U.S.-source income.

This is why it is so disappointing and frustrating that the Internal Revenue Service is creating grave risks for the American economy by pushing a regulation that would drive a significant slice of this foreign capital to other nations. More specifically, the IRS wants banks to report how much interest they pay foreign depositors so that this information can be forwarded to overseas tax authorities.

Yes, you read correctly. The IRS is seeking to abuse its regulatory power to overturn existing law.

Not surprisingly, many members of Congress are rather upset by this rogue behavior.

Senator Rubio, for instance, just sent a letter to President Obama, slamming the IRS and urging the withdrawal of the regulation.

At a time when unemployment remains high and economic growth is lagging, forcing banks to report interest paid to nonresident aliens would encourage the flight of capital overseas to jurisdictions without onerous reporting requirements, place unnecessary burdens on the American economy, put our financial system at a fundamental competitive disadvantage, and would restrict access to capital when our economy can least afford it. …I respectfully ask that Regulation 146097-09 be permanently withdrawn from consideration. This regulation would have a highly detrimental effect on our economy at a time when pro-growth measures are sorely needed.

And here’s what the entire Florida House delegation (including all Democrats) had to say in a separate letter organized by Congressman Posey.

America’s financial institutions benefit greatly from deposits of foreigners in U.S. banks. These deposits help finance jobs and generate economic growth… For more than 90 years, the United States has recognized the importance of foreign deposits and has refrained from taxing the interest earned by them or requiring their reporting. Unfortunately, a rule proposed by the Internal Revenue Service would overturn this practice and likely result in the flight of hundreds of billions of dollars from U.S. financial institutions. …According to the Commerce Department, foreigners have $10.6 trillion passively invested in the U.S. economy, including nearly “$3.6 trillion reported by U.S. banks and securities brokers.” In addition, a 2004 study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University estimated that “a scaled back version of the rule would drive $88 billion from American financial institutions,” and this version of the regulation will be far more damaging.

Both Texas Senators also have registered their opposition. Senators Hutchison and Cornyn wrote to the Obama Administration earlier this month.

We are very concerned that this proposed regulation will bring serious harm to the Texas economy, should it go into effect. …Forgoing the taxation of deposit interest paid to certain global investors is a long-standing tax policy that helps attract capital investment to the United States. For generations, these investors have placed their funds in institutions in Texas and across the United States because of the safety of our banks. Another reason that many of these investors deposit funds in American institutions is the instability in their home countries. …With less capital, community banks will be able to extend less credit to working families and small businesses. Ultimately, working families and small businesses will bear the brunt of this ill-advised rule. Given the ongoing fragility of our nation’s economy, we must not pursue policies that will send away job-creating capital.We ask you to withdraw the IRS’s proposed REG-14609-09. The United States should continue to encourage deposits from global investors, as our nation and our economy are best served by this policy.

Their dismay shouldn’t be too surprising since their state would be especially disadvantaged. Here are key passages from a story in the Houston Chronicle.

Texas bankers fear Mexican nationals will yank their deposits if the institutions are required to report to the Internal Revenue Service the interest income non-U.S. residents earn. …such a requirement would drive billions of dollars in deposits to other countries from banks in Texas and other parts the country, hindering the economic recovery, bankers argue. About a trillion dollars in deposits from foreign nationals are in U.S. bank accounts, according to some estimates. …The issue is of particular concern to some banks in South Texas, where many Mexican nationals have moved deposits because they don’t feel their money is safe in institutions in Mexico. …”This proposal has caused a wave of panic in Mexico,” said Lindsay Martin, an estate-planning lawyer with Oppenheimer Blend Harrison + Tate in San Antonio. He has received in recent weeks more than a dozen calls from Mexican nationals and U.S.-based financial planners with questions on the rule. …Jabier Rodriguez, chief executive of Pharr-based Lone Star National Bank, said not one Mexican national he has spoken to backs the rule. “Several of them have said if it were to happen, then there’s no reason for us to have our money here anymore,” he said. Many Mexican nationals worry that the data could end up in the wrong hands, jeopardizing their safety. If people in Mexico and some South American nations find out they have a million dollars in an FDIC-insured account in the United States, “their families could be kidnapped,” added Alex Sanchez, president of the Florida Bankers Association.

For those who want more information about this critical issue, here’s a video explaining why the IRS’s unlawful regulation is very bad for the American economy.

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I suppose there are some good jokes to make about Pakistan employing transgender tax collectors in an attempt to coerce more money from taxpayers, but I’m enough of a policy wonk to have serious questions about the system.

First, why does the government need to “shame” people. Can’t they just arrest taxpayers and/or seize their property? Or do Pakistani taxpayers actually enjoy the presumption of innocence, unlike their oppressed American counterparts?

Second, I read stories about religious zealots in Pakistan killing Christians and stoning adulterers. How do these tax collectors escape persecution? Is it that they only operate in a big city, which is more tolerant, while the really awful stuff happens in rural areas?

Third, why does Pakistan even bother with an income tax. I commented last year about Hillary Clinton’s ideological advice to Pakistan about squeezing the so-called rich, but the CNN story excerpted below says only 1 percent of the population is affected. What’s the point? The tax obviously doesn’t generate much revenue. Why not get rid of an oppressive law and make the country a tax haven?

Miss your tax deadline in the United States this weekend, and you might get a nasty letter at your door. In Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, you might get Riffee and the gang. They are “transgender” tax collectors — whose weapons include flamboyancy, surprise — and a little lipstick. In a move that speaks volumes about the lengths to which Pakistan is going to tackle tax evasion, Karachi officials are using Riffee – who like many people in South Asia works under a single name – and her team as enforcers with a difference. They are sent to the businesses or houses of debtors. The aim — in this very conservative Muslim society — to embarrass tax debtors into paying up. Riffee — like her tax-collector friends Sana and Kohan — is physically a man, but prefers to be called and dress as a woman. Their job is quite simple: each morning they turn up to work and get a list of missed payments. One by one, they make house-calls, causing trouble at each debtor’s home or office, trying to get them to pay up. It’s not clear how effective this tactic is, but officials insist they would not do it if it did not work. “Their appearance causes great embarrassment amongst the people,” said Sajid Hussein Bhatti, the tax superintendent who gives Riffee her orders every morning.

Pakistan does have a lot of tax evasion, to be sure, but the unwillingness to comply is actually just a symptom of high tax rates and and a corrupt government. People don’t like paying tax when they feel like they are getting ripped off to finance a wasteful public sector. That’s true in Pakistan, Greece, and just about every other nation. That’s why lower tax rates are the best way to boost compliance.

(h/t Pejman Yousefzadeh)

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