Diary

Happy Tax Day, Suckers

Another Tax Day has arrived, and with it, yet another sober reminder that our government is robbing us blind.

This time of year is met with the perennial aggravation of filling out tax forms, rendering unto Caesar for the unlucky, or otherwise singing profanity-laden arias to whichever politicians hold our ire. But can we really blame them, without first blaming the reflection in the mirror? To wit, the same crooks who add reams of deductions, exclusions, credits, and preferences into the code every year are the same ones nonetheless re-elected to office 95% of the time. In other words, while there may be much rending of garments, it never really translates into anything meaningful, up to and including showing the bums the back door.

Which is what we should be doing. Because it isn’t just that complying with 70,000-plus pages of statutes, regulations, and case law found in the Internal Revenue Code is a gargantuan waste of time. It’s not even that it’s a waste of productivity. Rather, our labyrinthine tax code is significant in that it’s a profound—and ultimately immoral—skewing of the proper relationship between the citizenry and its government.

Given the potential the IRS has of bringing incredible power and influence to bear over the lives of individuals and organizations alike, it should be doing so in as unobtrusive and painless a manner as possible. Yet, no honest assessment can conclude that this is indeed occurring. Tens of millions labor every year under a tax system riddled with so many intricacies that entire industries have flourished as a result, profiting on the layperson’s inability to understand them—to say nothing of a weaponized revenue agency that targets certain groups for inordinate scrutiny.

Just how much of a drag on our economy hath tax preparation wrought? According to a recent report, Americans take an estimated 6.1 billion hours every year to comply with our tax code—equivalent to roughly 3 million full-time worker-hours. Accounting costs—those expenses incurred in the process of teasing out code complexities and filing one’s taxes—yield between $67 and $378 billion in losses. Deferred economic activity ranges widely between $148 and $609 billion. Lobbyists—likely the sleaziest element of the entire racket—spent over $27 billion between 2002 and 2011 appealing to federal, state, and local governments for various and sundry preferential treatments. Finally, the convoluted nature of the tax system is such that government never ends up collecting all tax payments required under law—as those who can find loopholes, or otherwise shelter their money, will do so to lower their burden. As such, tax-compliance never hits one-hundred percent, leaving a multi-billion dollar gap in government coffers.

(This says nothing of the added complexity imposed on the tax code under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act—a legislative dumpster fire in and of itself—that was never supposed to levy a tax on individuals…until it did.)

Add it all together, and you’re left with the equivalent of a one-trillion dollar fiscal black hole. Deferred economic activity. Accounting costs. Maintaining the bureaucracy. None of those things actually buys anything. Every dollar taken out of the economy by this colossus is a dollar that isn’t available to care for veterans (at least, such care that our systemically corrupt VA manages to dispense), to educate kids, or even fill a simple pothole.

Put another way, we’ve seemingly decided that we have no better use for six percent of the country’s gross domestic product (which may seem trivial, but 6% of GDP would easily fund Social Security—our largest budget item—with enough left over for the Department of Education), so Washington effectively puts it in a barge to send down the Potomac out to sea.

Yet to this day, it’s common place for the Left to decry the lack of incoming federal revenue to fund this pet issue, or expand that federal program in such-and-such agency of the alphabet soup. Government wouldn’t need additional tax hikes of the sort that send a thrill up Bernie Sanders’ leg if it quit perpetuating a tax code that, by its sheer size and nature, can’t help but create such waste and distortion.

Nonetheless, we collectively allow an immoral tax system to continue squandering our industry, while entertaining calls to ratchet rates up farther. It ought not to be so. A serious society wouldn’t long tolerate such a perversion, nor would it consider spending a mite more until government could make better account of what it already deems to collect. Can we honestly call ourselves serious when a self-described “democratic socialist” has collected 38 percent of a major American party’s delegates, given what he wishes to do?

(It isn’t just our tax system that’s indefensible, of course; the spending side of the ledger is equally crocked and worthy, not of the surgeon’s scalpel, but the gardener’s shears. How else to characterize the Pentagon’s recent multi-million dollar program importing Italian male goats into Afghanistan to get it on with the local bovidaes in the interest of spurring on the country’s flagging cashmere economy? Further illustrating that this was indeed a government operation, many of the female goats had a disease that could potentially have wiped out the entire herd, so now only two Italian goats are still viable. Or the Afghani natural gas station that cost American taxpayers $43 million to construct, in a country that lacks the infrastructure to distribute said gas? The list stretches on to the horizon. If this sort of perpetually incompetent government really is, in the words of a Democratic National Committee video, “the only thing that we all belong to,” I’d kindly like to get off the bus.)

Coupled with something at least approaching restraint on spending, a fair and simple flat tax—probably levied on individual income, though I would prefer on one’s purchases—would eliminate all manner of such deleterious economic distortions, and would allow for a markedly circumscribed revenue agency more befitting a republic of ostensibly limited government. A satisfying interim policy would be singing tax withholding its swan song, forcing people to physically write a check every year. (Oh, the howling such a move would engender would be delicious!) This would, at very least, allow people to get their hands on their money first, and doing so, would be more acutely aware of what they’re giving up.

But for now—and despite the fractured protestations of those bothered enough to care—the status quo wins the day, and we’ll continue flushing the fruits of our labor down some remote toilet in the Hindu Kush in the name of goat sex. Certainly, the goat’s might enjoy taking drags off a cigarette after doing their business, yet the question remains: Why do I have to pay for it?