Friday, June 23, 2017

The IRS Front in the Conservative War Against Democracy

Welcome friends!

I’m finding tearing myself away from the slowly unfolding catastrophe of the conservative Trump administration is becoming more and more difficult every day.  Have you found that to be the case as well?  It’s hard to take one’s eyes off the papers even for a moment when one doesn’t know what manner of corruption, dishonesty, and destructiveness will manifest from one moment to the next.  Mesmerizing.  I’ve never seen anything like it the whole of my life.  I never imagined in my wildest dreams I ever would.  It’s as though the USA woke up one day and agreed to self destruct.  Nevertheless I’m determined to stick with the intent of this blog and not try to respond to every day to day development or I guess in this case outrage but instead focus on issues with somewhat broader and more lasting implications.  With that in mind I thought this week I’d take a quick look in my folder of issues I’ve long meant to comment upon but have never actually gotten around to and cross one off the list.  This week I decided to take up the American conservative war against the US tax authority the IRS and indeed by extension on democratic government itself.  Huh?  Taxes are bad right?  So why the dig about a war on democracy?  Allow me to explain.

I think by now most people get that conservatives think government should be limited to those activities they find personally useful, basically police, prisons, and national security, and that they consider any other sort of activity socialism, which by a not very clever sort of equivocation they strive to associate with the Stalinist do it my way or I’ll hit you on the head with a lead pipe variety.  They run on this platform constantly and as far as I know have done so for perhaps the last two hundred years here in the USA.  Not always talking about socialism per se but certainly attacking the foundation of the socialist ethos: the idea that other people matter.  They’ve been moderately successful at peddling their noxious claptrap particularly to rich people, poor people who idolize rich people and cast themselves in that role, certain academic economists, those ignorant of history and economics and philosophy, and well I suppose quite a few just plain old stupid people as well.  Can’t forget about them.  It’s a sort of self-limiting political philosophy because I think most reasonable and educated people realize that living in a human society is a bit more complicated than that and tends to raise some social and economic issues that need addressing and if we’re doing to keep things running smoothly and ethically we’re unfortunately going to have to do a bit more than protect some Grand Poobah’s stack from the nefarious depredations of social parasites.  However, one noteworthy corollary of conservatives‘ hatred of democratic government and its socialistic potential and egalitarian one person one vote overtones is that they don’t feel bound at all to advance their agenda in a straightforward way but feel entirely justified using any means available to bring about the results they desire.  And I do mean any.  One approach that’s caught my eye in the relatively recent past has been their attempt to render the IRS incapable of fulfilling its role of ensuring that everyone obeys the tax laws and pays their fair share of the cost of maintaining the nation in a more or less robust state of good health.  I suppose conservatives must view the IRS as a relatively soft target because nobody really likes paying taxes.  I know I don’t.  I’m scrupulous about paying my share but I don’t like mailing a check any more than the next fellow.  Of course that distaste is tempered by the fact that I understand there are some things that need doing.  I mean by the government.  Things that will never be addressed if we restrict ourselves to the magic of the marketplace.  And unfortunately those things require a little something from all of us.  Yes, I mean money.

Nor do I necessarily like where all my tax dollars are going.  But I feel the proper channel to address that little issue is the normal democratic process.  Vote against those who espouse and support those programs and policies.  I would hardly just skip out paying my taxes to mark my disapproval.  That would be dishonorable.  I have my standards you know.  I think this is actually a pretty common sentiment in this country.  Indeed, one of the reasons the US works relatively well is that most people or I guess I’m really talking about most people who aren’t conservatives, that would be liberals and more broadly leftists, accept their civic responsibilities.  Having eaten the dinner we don’t all run for the exits as soon as the check arrives.  But I understand this is certainly a problem in many other countries where not paying one’s fair share of taxes is considered a laudable goal and a feather in one’s cap along the line of Mr. Trump’s argument that earning $37 million a year and not paying any income tax makes him smart.

Now as I mentioned previously I think we all understand conservatives don’t like most government programs.  If it’s not something to their own immediate financial advantage such as the police or the armed forces then it falls into the general category of socialism.  You know: worrying about what happens to one’s fellow citizens.  Hey, I’ve got no problem with that.  We all have our opinions.  Republicans run on this platform constantly and I say more power to them.  I disagree with them one hundred percent but that’s what democracy is all about.  Dealing with bad ideas using words and the ballot box rather than stones and branches from small trees.  Rather different for me is their recent attempt to kill off programs they don’t like by working behind the scenes to choke off the revenue that renders those programs feasible.  One important front in this shadow war is to defund the IRS.  The goal in this case is assuredly to corrode the faith of Americans in the integrity of the tax revenue collection process.  The inevitable result of limiting the ability of the IRS to uncover and prosecute tax cheats is that tax cheats will begin to prosper and eventually all but the most stubbornly virtuous among us will begin to wonder whether they should perhaps also stop paying their taxes and hence not continue to lose ground to unscrupulous freeloaders.  Now I’m not necessarily suggesting that conservatives themselves are seeking greater leeway to cheat on their taxes, although given their general attitudes on taxes and democratic government in general that certainly seems a distinct possibility.  However, I do think it’s quite obvious they would like to reduce the effectiveness of tax code enforcement in this country.

For me these non-democratic behind the scenes shenanigans highlight the folly of electing people to serve in government who hold the philosophy that government does not and cannot work.  The obvious problem of course is that if government ever does threaten to work one assumes they will do everything in their power to thwart it and thus bolster their case.  It’s no coincidence that conservative Republicans have in the recent past led us time and time again to budget standoffs, government closures, and threats of debt default.  Indeed, one might say that sort of thing is their basic objective.  They want to prove that government is dysfunctional and cannot address any issues beyond those that benefit wealthy conservatives directly.  Reducing the effectiveness of the IRS is very much a part of this general effort.  In the view of conservatives government just doesn’t work.  And they will do whatever it takes to ensure it whether the voters are with them or not.


The amazing plunge in IRS audits of rich people and large corporations.  Catherine Rampell.  March 7, 2017.  Washington Post.

Former commissioners tell Congress, ‘The IRS is stretched to the breaking point,’ so stop slashing its budget.  Lisa Rein.  November 3, 2015.  The Washington Post.