Abolish the IRS? Seriously? Do These People Even Think Before Speaking?
Once again, we’re hearing voices from the right suggesting that we “abolish the IRS”. Seriously. For example, this weekend, in an interview on Fox News, Sen. Ted Cruz (TP-Texas) said:
“I think we ought to abolish the IRS and instead move to a simple flat tax where the average American can fill out taxes on postcard,” he explained in a Fox News interview over the weekend. “Put down how much you earn, put down a deduction for charitable contributions, home mortgage and how much you owe. It ought to be a simple one-page postcard, and take the agents, the bureaucracy out of Washington and limit the power of government.”
It’s worth noting that Sen. Cruz didn’t simply “misspeak” or use “inarticulate language” in the interview. No. That’s really what he meant. How do we know? Well, here’s a video that Sen. Cruz made (and note the title of the video: “Abolish the IRS Now”).
Apparently, he meant what he said. Did I mention that he’s a Harvard grad? That august university must be so proud. Of course, he also said that Harvard Law School had twelve communists (his word) on the faculty “who believed in the overthrow of the U.S. Government”. Again, seriously. And to think people take this guy seriously or think of him as a viable candidate for President in 2016. I suspect that I’ll have much to write about Sen. Cruz in the coming years.
Anyway, back to the main thread…
But it’s not just Sen. Cruz calling for the abolition of the IRS. Ron Paul has been calling for the abolition of the IRS since at least 2009. Mike Huckabee has supported similar proposals. Soon-to-be-former (thankfully) Rep. Michele Bachmann (TP-MN) has specifically called for the IRS to be abolished (while lying). The Daily Caller (you know, the pinnacle of journalistic integrity) recently ran an editorial entitled simply “Abolish the IRS”. The Senate Conservatives Fund has set up a website AbolishIRSNow.com. There’s a Facebook page with 51,671 likes (as of the time that I wrote this). Not surprisingly, there is a Twitter hashtag #AbolishtheIRS (and a review of that hashtag for just this morning’s tweets will reveal observations such as “IRS shreds Constitution”, “IRS has turned the American citizenry into subjects”, and “It's either this or Banana Republic time”). Popular thriller writer (and occasional Glenn Beck host) Brad Thor has chimed in on Twitter to advocate for abolishing the IRS (he has also called for people to “rise up in civil disobedience against the IRS”). And the Tea Party News Network is running an online poll asking readers whether the IRS should be abolished.* There are more examples. Many, many more.
How stupid are these people?
The point of this post isn’t to debate what reforms, if any, we need in our tax code and taxation policy. No, I want to focus just on the shorthand attack that is gaining Tea Party (mostly) momentum: Abolishing the IRS.
So let’s go back and look at Sen. Cruz’s proposal again:
I think we ought to abolish the IRS and instead move to a simple flat tax where the average American can fill out taxes on postcard… Put down how much you earn, put down a deduction for charitable contributions, home mortgage and how much you owe. It ought to be a simple one-page postcard, and take the agents, the bureaucracy out of Washington and limit the power of government.
See any problems? Let’s start simple: To whom do I mail my postcard? Congress? The President? Some giant Post Office Box in Washington? Presuming that the giant PO Box exists, I’m supposed to take this postcard and write down how much I earn. I presume that based on that I’m going to pay an amount in taxes, right? I’ll gloss over who I make the check payable to; we’ll assume that the payee is The United States of America. But let’s say that I’m not really a big fan of paying taxes. You know, like if I was a Tea Party kinda guy… What’s to keep me from, you know, lying? Hmm. How much did I earn? It was a tough year, so I’ll just say that I earned $178.35. I should be safe doing so (even if I might feel a bit guilty); after all, who is going to check to see if I lied? The same thing goes for writing down my charitable contributions and my mortgage. Hmm. I seem to recall giving just over a million (or was it three million?) to the charity my wife and I established to pay for our vacations to Disney. Seems fair, no? And again, who is going to check to see if I lied? For that matter, who will check to see if I even sent in my tax postcard? Or paid my taxes?
Starting to see the problem?
How are we going to determine what qualifies as a charity? And who should investigate whether a charity is real or a sham? Who is going to help promulgate regulations setting forth what qualifies as income? What qualifies as a tax-deductible expense? Who will ensure that everyone pays what they’re supposed to and chase those who don’t? Who will make sure that those who can afford to “hide” their income are compelled to pay their fair share?
And even if the eventual decision is to switch away from an income tax and toward a national sales tax, just who is going to collect those funds? Who will make sure that all retailers collect taxes and forward them to the government? Who will prosecute retailers who fail to collect the taxes or who pocket a portion of what they collect?
Wait a minute. I know! I have the answer! We can form a new governmental agency tasked with helping to write and enforce the tax laws. We can be sure that the agency has a staff to check the tax postcards that people mail in to be sure that they are correct and that people aren’t cheating. We can have that agency examine entities that think that they should be classified as charitable or tax exempt to be sure that they’re not violating the law and are, in fact, charitable or deserving of tax exempt status. And the staff of this new agency could be charged with prosecuting citizens who don’t pay their taxes. Isn’t that a great…
The problem isn’t the IRS. There might be a problem with the tax code. Like I said, that’s a question for another day and it’s a fair discussion to have. But the simple notion of “abolish the IRS” is just … silly. Or worse. And while I recognize that some of those calling for the abolition of the IRS understand that it’s just a shorthand way to express a desire to reform the tax code, I suspect that the vast majority of those who parrot this line don’t see any further than the expression itself. I mean, think about it. These are the people who think Obamacare was a “government takeover” of healthcare; that President Obama is a sekrit Mooslim who is allied with al-Qaeda, hates white people, and is a communist hell bent on destroying America; that the UN will force America to take away guns; that Agenda 21 is a plan to force us into a concentration camps so squirrels can live unmolested; that bike sharing is a sign of the devil; that women can’t be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies; and that the Earth is just 6,000 years old and that Abraham rode from Ur to Canaan on the back of his pet T-Rex (or was it a triceratops? I get confused).
If we want to talk about tax policy, then let’s have that discussion. But calls and surveys and petitions designed to work low information voters into a frenzy is yet another disingenuous and dangerous political ploy.
Two more quick points: Civil disobedience regarding taxes? Really? So you’re going to deprive the government of money (and commit a crime at the same time…). OK. So which things should we defund now that we’re not getting your money? The military? Your social security check? If you don’t like the tax code, work to change it. Don’t commit a crime.
Second, is the standard now that anytime we have a scandal tied to a branch of government, we should simply abolish it? So, then we should abolish the military because of the torture at Abu Ghraib, right? Abolish the CIA because of torture, right? Instead of “abolish” as a gut reaction, how about we work together to find reasonable ways to solve problems? Oh, wait. That might involve compromise. Never mind.
*I know that you’re curious how the Tea Party News Network framed the question for their poll, right? I mean, it’s not like how the question is framed could have any impact on the result, right?
With the most recent Obama scandal in which the IRS was used as a political weapon to intimidate and harass conservative/tea party groups, some, including Sen. Ted Cruz and TheTeaParty.net, are making the call to abolish the IRS.
Looks like a totally unbiased question to me; phrases like “political weapon” and “harass” would never lead one to a particular result.
I took the poll, just to see what the results looked like.