Friday, June 23, 2017

We hate taxes. The Internal Revenue Code is our punishment

Every four years. it seems, a fringe presidential candidate jumps on the same populist platform: “Abolish the IRS!”

We Americans hate and despise taxes. Yet we know we can’t get rid of them. So we dream of doing away with the tax collector.

The punishment for our tax hatred? An incredibly convoluted Internal Revenue Code. Thousands and thousands of rules and sub-rules and exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions. Our federal income tax is infinitely more complicated than it ought to be.

Instead of a rational system, we have a tax code made monstrous by Congress. Yet every time Congress adds another complication it is merely doing our bidding, as summed up by Russell Long: ‘Don’t tax you, don’t tax me. Tax that other fellow behind the tree.”

Could we have a less hateful tax code? Yes. In A Fine Mess T. R. Reid points out that fiscal engineers around the world have determined the most tolerable tax system: BBLR. Broad base, low rate. Some describe the ideal as a modest tax on income, broadly defined, plus a consumption tax such as a VAT.

Whoa! If you think Americans hate the income tax, try mentioning a Value Added Tax. The levy offers no escape. If the purchase of a Tesla is subject to a VAT, every Tesla buyer has to pay it – you, me, the fellow behind the tree, the neighborhood drug dealer, everybody!

Yet a VAT could be almost likable in terms of fairness. And a simple, broad-based income tax would make filing tax returns child’s play.

Within living memory, Congress has attempted serious tax reform only once, in 1986. Even that effort produced nothing like a truly simple BBLR system. Could our hatred of our current tax mess ever lead to full-fledged reform? Seems like an impossible dream.

As Theodore Roosevelt once observed, “Americans learn only from catastrophe and not from experience."

1 comment:

Jim Gust said...

A non-trivial reason to abolish the IRS today is that Obama turned it into a political weapon. The IRS has been so corrupted that a new tax collector, with entirely different personnel, needs to be created to replace it.

The Republicans lack the brains or the competence for the job, alas.