Imagine a world without the IRS

It’s that time of the year again, when Big Brother’s wallet gets bigger. As we prepare our income tax returns during the lead into April 14th, let’s remember the simple fact that we’re paying the government to take our money.
The painful reality of the Internal Revenue Service is that its only purpose is to engage in the business of repossessing cash. And the only way the institution, in meeting these goals, sustains itself is through the collection of more money.
Cutting to the chase: The IRS has got to go. I mean ban the thing. The self-perpetuating parasite abuses its power more often and more consistently than even the most wicked alphabet soup of government agencies.
Besides that, it has no legal basis on which to stand. Look hard, anywhere in the Constitution, for any provision allowing the government to withhold and confiscate its citizens’ wealth. It ain’t in there.
Of course there has been long-standing grass-roots support for a total overhaul of the nation’s tax code. The IRS remains the most feared and hated institution of American government. Directors and employees have done little to change the image — it is one, in fact, that thrives on the intimidation of the nations’ workers into the coercion of wages.
Republican icons Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, Steve Forbes and the entire Libertarian Party have called for the abolition of the agency.
We don’t have to look far, even gazing through the state of Minnesota’s quasi-Scandinavian socialist hues, to find opposition to the feds. Robert Fowler, a Republican candidate for Minnesota Legislature, District 59B, calls the current tax code “oppressive.” He says the tax law is incredibly complicated and “the worst aspect of it,” he adds, “is the IRS’s misuse of agency.”
Last September, Congress heard testimony of abuses of power by the IRS from private citizens from across the country. The accounts included claims that the IRS acted terroristically, with extortion, threats and unauthorized aggression in collecting disproportionate percentages of income from the most unlikely of victims, such as widowed grandmothers, priests and school teachers at home and abroad.
The week after testimony concluded, however, President Clinton made the claim, “The IRS is functioning better today than it was five years ago.”
On the same day Clinton made his remarks, House Speaker Gingrich called the IRS “hopelessly out of control.” Senate majority leader Trent Lott, in the past month, has asked the chairmen of the Senate budget and tax committees to include a provision in the budget plan that would call for terminating the tax code by the end of 2001.
On Monday, President Clinton responded to the Republican proposal saying it would be “irresponsible” to enact measures that would abolish the current system.
Yet, on Tuesday, a New York City woman lost a Supreme Court appeal after the IRS socked her with a bill for $650,000 for back taxes left her by her ex-husband. The court did not comment on Elizabeth Cockrell’s argument that she is an “innocent spouse.”
Current federal tax law makes each spouse responsible for the full amount of income tax due for a joint federal income tax return, enabling the IRS to pursue one spouse for payment of back taxes if the other is unavailable.
Even though Cockrell’s lawyer appealed to the court “to castigate the unfair tactics committed by the IRS,” justice department lawyers urged the court to reject Cockrell’s appeal “simply because she remained willfully ignorant of substantial deductions on the couple’s joint returns.”
Willfully ignorant? In truth, this description fits the court’s decision in Cockrell vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue.
Left-leaning, dyed in the wool New Dealers will argue that the government simply must collect taxes for at least the purposes of national defense: the maintenance of roads, welfare, social security, education, crime prevention — you name it — all of these and more fall into line under the same argument. The argument pits the values of taking care of the nation’s population against a mean, hungry machine that reaps what others sow.
The IRS is a beat-up old diesel engine running the show.
Alternatives to income tax do exist and are different from it in that they do not rely on the bureaucratic principles that fuel the IRS; the flat tax, sales taxes and universal consumption taxes are but a few.
And as the federal budget deficit climbs closer and closer to $0, any attempt to justify the existence of the IRS is going to fall on more and more deaf ears.
Even on the state level, we can see where Minnesota stands after travelling this road: We have the largest budget surplus from collected monies in our history. It’s being spent fast, too — so fast that come this time next year we probably won’t see anything like a surplus, the same tax rates (if not higher) and, of course, none of the relief that even the most well-meaning politicians suggest.
Fowler says he supports the efforts of Republicans in Congress to reform the nation’s system of taxation, including their calls to pull the plug on the institution. “I think the IRS should be abolished,” he says.
Yet we’re bound to hear more of Clinton’s main objection to such measures. He suggests that if we take the Republicans for their word, they appear to show no interest in ever allowing the collection of taxes.
Clinton issued the statement on Monday that, “I just think it’s wrong to shut down the old tax system … without saying at the same time what is going to be in its place.”
OK, so Clinton’s beef is: We can’t get rid of the IRS until we figure out how to create more taxes.
Picture January 1, 2002. If somehow the Republicans still manage to get rid of the tax system we now have, and we fall in line with a Clintonesque replacement agency, we are all bound to be hearing screams through April 14th: “Meet the new boss, just the same as the old boss!”
Does anyone know what the real objection to the Republican plan here is? Not having a replacement for the IRS is not the problem. It’s the solution.
Until and if the day ever comes (knock on wood), that someone in Washington figures out how to relieve Americans from the dreaded fears all taxpayers face — audits, bankruptcy, leans on payments and the confiscation of accounts — we can only hope that a few of the attempts at reform will catch on.
So far, they do more to redefine supervision of the IRS than change it’s basic structure. Last Friday, the federal government launched the first of several citizen groups to monitor the Internal Revenue Service, with a call for taxpayer volunteers to serve on a panel in south Florida. And last November, the House overwhelmingly passed an IRS reform bill that would create an oversight board of government and private sector members, introduce 28 new “taxpayer rights” and shift the burden of proof in civil cases onto the IRS.
Yet the fight for reform has only begun. This is the era in which big government is supposed to be dead. At every turn we are reminded that the bells and whistles of the economy are supposedly functioning better than they have in decades. And even if you set aside the farthest right of the right-wing arguments that can be heard in favor of a total supply-side economy, you won’t escape the conclusion that the IRS is an inefficient institution — the biggest in big government — whose existence depends only on withholding, confiscating and penalizing an economy that it never gives back to.
If it means asking our politicians to eliminate the primary source of their paychecks, ridding us of the IRS may ultimately rid us of them. Consider it killing two birds with one stone. Big Brother and his wallet, however, will be the only ones hurt.

Gregory A. Borchard’s column appears every Thursday. He can be reached with comments via e-mail at [email protected]