Statists attempt to explain taxation as some sort of collectivistic obligation (a “necessary evil,” if you will) incurred whereby humans must literally pay tribute to Caesar in order for the nation to continue to exist, otherwise it would become apparent that taxation is indistinguishable from property theft. Unlike muggers, tax collectors are given an unearned respect for what is fundamentally the same kind of activity that their street thug counterparts perform (albeit with less personal risk to themselves and more bureaucratic paperwork for their victims). With the advent of the horrid 16th Amendment (and the federal judiciary’s “constitutional” defense of its ratification), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been given the authority by Congress to perform carte blanche whatever they deem necessary to conduct shakedowns on the hapless citizenry.
Governments have imposed their peculiar method of taxation upon their subjects time and time again. Take for instance the Whiskey Rebellion of the early 1790s, where Supreme Court Justice James Wilson legitimized the whiskey tax itself and President George Washington federalized the militias in order to suppress the tax resisters; fortunately, the Jeffersonians eventually succeeded in overturning that tax. Abraham Lincoln established the IRS during the War Between the States, despite the fact that this flagrantly violated Article 1, Section 9 of the federal Constitution:
“No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration hereinbefore directed to be taken.”
Best case scenario, the 16th Amendment was ratified ex post facto the implementation of a federal income tax, which is unconstitutional on its face. In our day and age, the IRS has well over 100,000 employees, very broad rulemaking legal authority, and much more access to taxpayer’s personal information than even the secret police do.
Withholding is a particularly nasty piece of work. The self-trickery involved here is nothing more than a sleight of hand, whereby instead of you having to pay the IRS after you have received your paycheck, your employer retains that portion of the tax from your paycheck and he pays that to the IRS. When combined with receiving tax refunds, a manipulative ploy is played upon the taxpayer, where instead of feeling like he is paying taxes, he feels like the IRS is paying him. As former IRS lawyer Andrew Levine said:
“I don’t think there is any question there would be a national revolt against current federal taxes if the public paid them all on April 15. Withholding provides the key illusion which allows our tax system to function. That’s okay by me because I happen to support most of the federal spending programs.”
According to the Tax Foundation, the central government in 1913 had a marginal tax rate of 5% for those earning over $100,000; now, for that same amount a century later in 2013, the marginal tax rate is a whopping 25% (and this is only for the federal income tax, as expressed in nominal dollars not adjusted for inflation). The IRS has been incrementally stealing larger and larger portions of the pie ever since its inception. How is this evidence of “voluntary compliance?” The only aspect of this I can accurately infer from the figures is that the corporatists benefit from government favor because the system works for them, at the cost of the genuinely productive free market (it would also seem to be the case that with each war, the shift of the tax burden is shifted down the socio-economic scale even heavier upon the shoulders of the bourgeois middle-class, as well as the working poor).
Perhaps, some well-intentioned people might think, the IRS is performing a vital function of collecting taxes that are then allocated for the public services we all use, such as roads, schools, and hospitals. Would some of those “public services” include arresting, confiscating, and otherwise harassing law-abiding citizens? How do you reconcile official government doctrine (as taught in their own indoctrination centers) with the oppression set upon Kirby Holmes, Margarita Baez, or Utris King? Is it a testament to any notion of a free society that Michael Kuzman (then a 17-year-old kid in 1981) warranted a 4 day surveillance operation by the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division for merely writing a letter to the editor expressing his political views? As former assistant IRS commissioner Bruce Milburn stated in an interview regarding the surveillance on Kuzman:
“From the way you describe the case, it sounds like a waste of time. But I would have to believe that there was a sound reason for the operation. We don’t willfully squander our resources. That’s why it would take the approval of senior management officials to get that kind of surveillance going.”
Don’t you dare tell me that the government only cares about “protecting the children” when the IRS was perfectly happy to also go after Shannon Burns, Carmin Fischer, and Garry Keffer (ages 10, 9, and 12, respectively) whose piggy-bank savings were confiscated ($694.00, $70.76, and even $10.35, respectively). No doubt in my mind exists that Milburn was telling the truth, in that it is IRS policy to target those individuals and families that were vulnerable in one way or another. There is nothing “fair and equitable” about how the IRS goes about collecting income taxes (or anything else, for that matter).
The author seems to insist that the best course of action regarding handling the IRS in the long run lies in reform, not abolishment. Drawing upon the effects of the Knapp Commission on the wide spread corruption within the New York Police Department, Burnham thinks that it is quite possible to do the same thing again, but with the IRS, and this will somehow “reign them in.” If there was just enough congressional oversight, rewriting significant portions of the tax code, and even reorganizing the agency, then the blatantly tyrannical actions of the IRS will at least be greatly mitigated.
Since there is a documented history of the IRS intimidating legislators at the behest of presidents, the failure of the passage of a so-called “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” and previous restructurings of the IRS (which interestingly enough, always result in the agency gaining more “independence” from the Congress), then I have to seriously ask if Burnham understands the Chinese definition of insanity. Doing the same old hypocritical and flawed thing does not a victory make, and only serves to demonstrate that while Burnham is a fine historian, he is certainly no strategist.
David Burnham’s A Law Unto Itself: Power, Politics, and the IRS is primarily a decent history about the Infernal Racket Scallywags. This book is good for throwing at your statist neighbors for why the IRS (and even tax collection in general) is undesirable, but keep in mind that any sort of plan of action for dealing with the IRS in some way that might (or will) work is greatly lacking here. It would behoove all of us to study the concomitant history of tax resistance and see not only where the pitfalls are, but also where any kind of real solutions might be found.