On Abolishing the IRS

 

taxfairy“Claire,” I hear you all say, “You spend all of your time raving about Donald Trump making nutball promises to a credulous electorate. Why don’t you ever point out that Ted Cruz’s nutball schemes make no sense, either?”

(Actually, no one has ever said that to me, not even once, but I realized it this morning while I was reviewing last night’s debate transcript, so I figured this was a good opportunity to prove I’m equal-opportunity indignant. I’m against-all-nuts. It just hadn’t occurred to me that one of Cruz’s promises is Trump-level nutty: I was so busy barreling down Trump Tunnelvision Turnpike that I forgot to turn on the Cruz Control.)

Now, like every live-blooded American, I love the words “Abolish the IRS.” I love them so much that I didn’t really think deeply about them. The words themselves had me hypnotized, like a python in a snake-charmer’s gaze, giving me a tingly-all-over yes! feeling. (How could Cruz be doing so poorly in the primaries given this absolutely beautiful campaign slogan? Those are the winningest words in the English language.)

But.

It’s not going to happen. All adults know this will not happen. Mexico’s not going to pay for the wall, and the IRS will not be abolished. Promising such a thing is an insult to our intelligence. Another one.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for simplifying the tax code, and I don’t think Cruz’s proposals for doing that are entirely nutty. The tax code should be at least this simple: If you don’t earn enough to afford an accountant, you shouldn’t need one to file your taxes. And obviously, the politicization of the IRS is an unspeakable breach of the public trust. Someone, for sure, should be abolished for that. Probably a bunch of someones.

But come on. You can rename the IRS. (In fact, they tried rebranding in the 1950s: The Bureau of Internal Revenue became the Internal Revenue Service. Strangely, Americans still didn’t like it.) You can lay off its management and many of its employees. You can, and should, pass a much simpler tax code, although that’s not actually something the president gets to do, and it’s definitely not something the president gets to do if he also believes Obamacare should have been struck down as a violation of the origination clause. And even if he’s wobbly about that, he’s not allowed to be wobbly about Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constitution or the 16th Amendment. (Or at least, someone who thinks the president shall have power to lay and collect taxes is not to be trusted if he promises to appoint avowed originalists as to the Supreme Court.) “The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States,” it says; those words are clear as springwater, and they’re definitely what our forebears meant. After all, taxation by monarchical decree is what got them lathered up in the first place.

So. We’re still going to have a tax-collection agency, because someone’s still got to collect the taxes. Changing the name won’t change what it is. Someone has to receive those tax returns, even if they’re on a postcard. Someone still has to cash the checks. Someone’s still got to do the audits, not least because Cruz is proposing anti-fraud reforms — meaning regulations — and someone will have to execute those reforms, unless the reform says, “From now on, America, you’re on the honor system.”

As his website puts it,

The Child Tax Credit will remain in place, and the Simple Flat Tax Plan expands and modernizes the Earned Income Tax Credit with greater anti-fraud and pro-marriage reforms. As a result, the Simple Flat Tax will ensure that low- and middle-income Americans have greater opportunities – not only through minimal taxes, but also through better, high-paying jobs that the Simple Flat Tax will generate. Under the plan, deductions for charitable contributions and mortgage interest payments are preserved.

Employers are still going to have to report wages. Banks are still going to have to report investment income. There’s still a child tax credit. Still an EITC. Still a charitable deduction. Still a mortgage deduction. A business VAT instead of a corporate income tax, but someone’s still going to have to collect those taxes. Someone’s got to check to see if the numbers add up. Someone’s got to take Leona Helmsley to court. Cruz says he’s going to move the IRS to “some much smaller division” of the Treasury Department. But it’s still going to be part of the Treasury Department, so will all its employees literally be moved to a new, smaller office? Who’s going to pay for the move? If not, what does this (literally) mean?

Will they all be fired and replaced with new ones, albeit in smaller numbers, before they move into their new office? And would it be quite fair (or an efficient use of our tax money) to fire everyone at the IRS? After all, the complexity of the tax code isn’t their fault. They’re enforcing laws passed by Congress. (Wouldn’t it be more fair to fire Congress?) In fact, wouldn’t it be quite unfair to fire diligent employees who were in no way associated with recent scandals, only to replace them with new federal employees who will do roughly the same jobs they do? Wouldn’t there be quite a bit of waste involved in firing the best and most experienced of these employees and replacing them with new federal employees with no experience at all? Would the ones who were fired be entitled to unemployment insurance? To their federal pensions? Would the new ones also be entitled to federal benefits?

Contest of the day: Congratulations! You’re the marketing exec who won the “Rebrand the IRS” account. Choose its new name. Your goal is to make taxpayers feel good about the agency that takes their money. So good that they’ll be glad their money was used to pay your salary. Good luck.

 

There are 47 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Cruz is doing what all politicians do – making promises that the voters want to hear, knowing full well that he can’t deliver. Over and over we hear that the voters are angry that the GOPe has not delivered on its promises. If you look at those promises, it was obvious from the start that there was no chance to deliver.

    If the voters want politicians who make measured and realistic promises, and set out clear plans for how to achieve those objectives, then they have to start voting for people like that! It is absolutely comical that voters keep falling for ridiculous promises, and then get angry when the impossible fails to happen.

    • #1
  2. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Larry3435: If the voters want politicians who make measured and realistic promises, and set out clear plans for how to achieve those objectives, then they have to start voting for people like that! I

    Yep. It’s a folie à deux, and the responsibility is entirely shared. The electorate wants to hear lies. Our politicians are just obeying the will of the electorate by telling them the lies they want to hear.

    I don’t know if it’s just me or if it really is much worse this election than in elections past. It may just be that I’m for some personal reason noticing the absurdity and transparent mendacity of these promises more now than I did before. I wonder if there’s some objective way to measure it against past presidential elections.

    • #2
  3. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    The Department of Wealth Management and Allocation: Allocating your wealth to be managed by others.

    • #3
  4. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Well, I’ve likewise called Cruz out for cheap dishonesty on his ability to “repeal every word of Common Core.” That has been driving me crazy for months, and a couple debates ago Cruz literally defended it by promising to do something Congress already did. Groan.

    But at least Cruz isn’t pretending that would somehow solve the debt – let alone offering it as his first policy proposal along those lines. One candidate is further detached from reality than the other…

    (Rubio gets Common Core right.)

    • #4
  5. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Cruz will abolish the IRS and set up a new office to collect taxes: the SRI, the service for revenue internal. ;)

    It’s a shell game.

    Cruz is OK for me if he wins, but frankly he’s too smarmy.

    • #5
  6. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:You’re the marketing exec who won the “Rebrand the IRS” account. Choose its new name.

    “The Freedom Bureau”.

    While I’m at it, change Education to “Human Capacity”, and the EPA to “Recreation Security”.

    Orwell shmorwell, you know they’re compelling choices.

    • #6
  7. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Manny:Cruz will abolish the IRS and set up a new office to collect taxes: the SRI, the service for revenue internal. ;)

    It’s a shell game.

    Cruz is OK for me if he wins, but frankly he’s too smarmy.

    It’s your Presidential race, but I gotta say Cruz looked like Lestat’s dumpy older brother in that last debate. (And Trump – what is with those hands? Rubio looked like Prince Valiant, of course.)

    • #7
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    All the candidates I really liked have dropped out already. We are left with the Columbus Kung Fu Master, the buffoonish amalgamation of Huey Long and Benito Mussolini, the liar, and the guy with an annoying manner who – as you note – promises things he can’t deliver.

    • #8
  9. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Actually the IRS could be abolished as the giant intrusive corrupt organization it has proved itself to be if we adopted an across the board VAT and a flat tax as Cruz is proposing. I recommend doubters look at New Zealand’s tax reform from the mid eighties. A uniform, no good excepted, VAT combined with a simple no loophole flat tax (New Zealand cut income taxes by half but it remained progressive and complicated, but that doesn’t change my point here) is pretty much self collecting and cheating is almost impossible. The reason is that it pays all business to report taxes honestly and to collect the VAT from their customers because the costs of inputs and the tax paid on those inputs, with few exceptions, is worth more than the final producers value added or any extras he could squeeze from income taxes by cheating. Thus he collects 1000 dollars tax on sales of 10,000, but if his value added was 1000, he remits 100 dollars to the tax agency and keeps 900 he has already paid and his suppliers have already submitted to the tax authority. I suppose Cruz won’t call it a VAT because conservatives, knowing VATs only from EU hate them because they are cash cows and because rates vary, so are corrupt,corrupting and can be demagogued. Our congress would try t0 turn a VAT into a log role of varying rates undercutting its simplicity and integrity. Simplicity is more feasible.

    • #9
  10. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    Here’s the conundrum: On one side, I’ll take a vote for Mr.-Everyday-Politician-you-know-I’m-lying-because-my-lips-are-moving over Mr. “Our military will commit war crimes if I tell them to.” And it’s clear that Rubio and Cruz have decided that they cannot aim fire on each other while the putative war criminal is still in the race.

    However, this guy is out there constantly saying that he’s the one honest broker who will keep his promises and bring integrity to the political process. If he gets elected, he will damage the trustworthiness of the Republican brand forever.

    I guess the consolation is that he will probably get shredded in a general election.

    Here’s to four more years of a Clinton presidency.

    • #10
  11. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Zafar:

    Manny:Cruz will abolish the IRS and set up a new office to collect taxes: the SRI, the service for revenue internal. ;)

    It’s a shell game.

    Cruz is OK for me if he wins, but frankly he’s too smarmy.

    It’s your Presidential race, but I gotta say Cruz looked like Lestat’s dumpy older brother in that last debate. (And Trump – what is with those hands? Rubio looked like Prince Valiant, of course.)

    Well, I thought they all looked bad except for Kasich. Actually you can read my thoughts on the debate, here, comment #21.

    • #11
  12. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    I Walton: Actually the IRS could be abolished as the giant intrusive corrupt organization it has proved itself to be if we adopted an across the board VAT and a flat tax as Cruz is proposing. I recommend doubters look at New Zealand’s tax reform from the mid eighties

    Just a point: New Zealand’s tax agency actually has [four and a half (remembered ratio was much too low)] as many agents per citizen as the “giant intrusive corrupt” IRS.

    [EDIT to show math

    New Zealand: 5500 employees of Inland Revenue/4.6 million citizens = .00119 (roughly 1 for every 100)

    US: 89,500 IRS employees/ 322,369,319 inhabitants = .00027 (roughly 3 for every 1000)]

    • #12
  13. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I don’t know if it’s just me or if it really is much worse this election than in elections past. It may just be that I’m for some personal reason noticing the absurdity and transparent mendacity of these promises more now than I did before. I wonder if there’s some objective way to measure it against past presidential elections.

    A Democrat versus a Republican race can get testy. But if Hillary gets indicted, we may be looking at a Socialist versus a Fascist. That’s much worse.

    And please don’t give me flack about “fascist.” Anyone who claims that he will happily use the military to carry out illegal orders, who wants to abolish the First Amendment so he can sue his critics, and who promises to use the IRS to punish companies who do not do his bidding, is a fascist. There’s no other word for it. And like all fascists, Trump is also a leftist.

    • #13
  14. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Larry3435: And please don’t give me flack about “fascist.” Anyone he claims that he will happily use the military to carry out illegal orders, who wants to abolish the First Amendment so he can sue his critics, and who promises to use the IRS to punish companies who do not do his bidding, is a fascist

    I don’t think he’s a fascist in the technical sense used by historians. I do think he’s an authoritarian, which is quite bad enough, considering that we’re the United States of America. And yes, I think there’s a serious risk we would have an authoritarian government under Trump. But I don’t see a totalitarian one as a real risk. In other words, Cruz would argue that we’d be the kind of government with which we can and should do business, because the alternative is anarchy. (He bases this on Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s argument that authoritarianism is often preferable to the alternative of totalitarianism.) In any event, life in an authoritarian regime is not that bad. It’s not like living in America, but for most people, it’s fine. The proles are happy, in 1984. An often-overlooked point.

    • #14
  15. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Larry3435: And please don’t give me flack about “fascist.” Anyone he claims that he will happily use the military to carry out illegal orders, who wants to abolish the First Amendment so he can sue his critics, and who promises to use the IRS to punish companies who do not do his bidding, is a fascist

    I don’t think he’s a fascist

    From Miriam-Webster: “Fascism – a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” To me, that sounds like something that Trump would be entirely comfortable with.

    • #15
  16. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Larry3435: …To me, that sounds like something that Trump would be entirely comfortable with.

    We shall see. It’s a better fit for the current inhabitant, who actually has a track record.

    To Claire’s point, I doubt Trump actually wants to return us to our lost Roman glories… ;)

    • #16
  17. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Larry3435: And please don’t give me flack about “fascist.” Anyone he claims that he will happily use the military to carry out illegal orders, who wants to abolish the First Amendment so he can sue his critics, and who promises to use the IRS to punish companies who do not do his bidding, is a fascist

    I don’t think he’s a fascist in the technical sense used by historians. I do think he’s an authoritarian, which is quite bad enough, considering that we’re the United States of America. And yes, I think there’s a serious risk we would have an authoritarian government under Trump. But I don’t see a totalitarian one as a real risk. In other words, Cruz would argue that we’d be the kind of government with which we can and should do business, because the alternative is anarchy. (He bases this on Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s argument that authoritarianism is often preferable to the alternative of totalitarianism.) In any event, life in an authoritarian regime is not that bad. It’s not like living in America, but for most people, it’s fine. The proles are happy, in 1984. An often-overlooked point.

    Claire, I don’t think Trump will have a lasting effect on our system. We still have checks and balances. He’s all style and no substance. In actual practice I don’t see him as any different in authoritarianism as the last seven decades.

    • #17
  18. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    There is no consensus for just about any true conservative policy.

    I believe some number of years ago Glenn Beck did some polling and there are 40% or so who call themselves fiscal conservatives, but any given policy only gets ~10% support.

    Fewer people believe in the true conservative label than believe we faked the moon landing. Fiscal conservativism, in its current incarnation is way out in the weeds in tinfoil crank territory.

    The only reason they ever had any influence on any policy anywhere is because of the alignment with social conservatives and populists.

    Social conservatives freed from the fi-con albratross around their neck wins ballot initiatives.

    If there is anything that anybody can learn from the current bru-ha-ha is that the true conservative brand who once said we can’t scream purity at people, is now screaming purity at people.

    Its like watching a 6 year old ball hog watch someone else kick a goal and is having an arms and legs flailing tempertantrum. Its unseemly, and thoroughly discrediting of the entire movement. Conservatives are not serious people.

    Hopefully in 2-3 years people will look back and be embarrassed at their behavior.

    If the #nevertrump thing happens, there may never be a coalition willing to humor them again. Hell that may happen anyway. I guess its all a matter of who gets to keep the hollowed husk of a dead organization.

    • #18
  19. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Amy Schley:

    I Walton: Actually the IRS could be abolished as the giant intrusive corrupt organization it has proved itself to be if we adopted an across the board VAT and a flat tax as Cruz is proposing. I recommend doubters look at New Zealand’s tax reform from the mid eighties

    Just a point: New Zealand’s tax agency actually has [four and a half (remembered ratio was much too low)] as many agents per citizen as the “giant intrusive corrupt” IRS.

    [EDIT to show math

    New Zealand: 5500 employees of Inland Revenue/4.6 million citizens = .00119 (roughly 1 for every 100)

    US: 89,500 IRS employees/ 322,369,319 inhabitants = .00027 (roughly 3 for every 1000)]

    As I pointed out, they kept the complexity and the progressive nature. They can’t fire people either. After all it was a socialist government. The point is that with no variation, and no exception, the IRS just receives funds and accounts for them. They would have no discretion. Moreover New Zealand is a low population and doesn’t have 50 state tax collection authorities so it’s all pretty much Wellington. Think Wy or Alaska, they have the highest government spending to population int he country not because they are liberal bastions, but because there are basic costs that are the same for a population of 500 thousand as there are for 50 million. There are economies of scale.

    • #19
  20. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Amy Schley:

    I Walton: Actually the IRS could be abolished as the giant intrusive corrupt organization it has proved itself to be if we adopted an across the board VAT and a flat tax as Cruz is proposing. I recommend doubters look at New Zealand’s tax reform from the mid eighties

    Just a point: New Zealand’s tax agency actually has [four and a half (remembered ratio was much too low)] as many agents per citizen as the “giant intrusive corrupt” IRS.

    [EDIT to show math

    New Zealand: 5500 employees of Inland Revenue/4.6 million citizens = .00119 (roughly 1 for every 100)

    US: 89,500 IRS employees/ 322,369,319 inhabitants = .00027 (roughly 3 for every 1000)]

    That was very interesting. Thanks.

    • #20
  21. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Claire, I know you have been wondering how we govern after winning in a nation that has bernie sanders supporters? I think you need to open your mind further and think about how you govern with anybody outside of the bunker.

    • #21
  22. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:I don’t know if it’s just me or if it really is much worse this election than in elections past. It may just be that I’m for some personal reason noticing the absurdity and transparent mendacity of these promises more now than I did before. I wonder if there’s some objective way to measure it against past presidential elections.

    Honestly, Claire, I really don’t think Rubio or Kasich is making these promises (and I’m no fan of Kasich’s). Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

    Cruz is running on a platform that says he was lying about what he said about immigration in 2013. No one seems to notice that the candidate of integrity is boasting that he was lying back then. It’s a weird world.

    • #22
  23. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    If an institution has become corrupt, and there are other institutions that need to be encouraged not to become (so spectacularly) corrupt, what do you do? One thing to do is, indeed, abolish it. All that institutional pride and history, that institutional culture, gets flushed away. Its people and functions are scattered and claimed by other institutions. Managers lose seniority, cliques lose power, structures lose cohesion. People still exist. Stuff still gets done. But as an institution, it disappears. And other institutions tremble. (One can dream.)

    If Cruz was calling for the abolition of taxes that would be one thing. As you say, he’s not.

    • #23
  24. RyanFalcone Member
    RyanFalcone
    @RyanFalcone

    Just rename the IRS Snoopy. Everyone loves Snoopy. No, it doesn’t make any sense but at this point what difference does it really make?

    At the rate we are going we will soon have actual Snoopy agents come to each of our individual homes on April 15th and just tell us how much we owe and then hand us the records of the transaction that has been made in our accounts to pay it out. They will then thank us for doing the bare minimum to help out our fellow Americans and remind us that if we have any compassion at all we will go to Snoopy.com to make a tax deductible “tithe” to the Snoopy King who will make sure that it gets to someone in need. They will smile politely and say thanks and then hold out their hand for their expected gratuity.

    • #24
  25. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    The first time Cruz made that comment, I blew it off. I didn’t have the patience to explore whether there was actually a way to do it. I’m glad you made the effort to do that, Claire. I find that whenever any person says something like, “abolish,” “all” “never” “always,” I reject it out of hand. Whether or not that’s wise, it’s me.

    • #25
  26. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Susan Quinn:The first time Cruz made that comment, I blew it off. I didn’t have the patience to explore whether there was actually a way to do it. I’m glad you made the effort to do that, Claire. I find that whenever any person says something like, “abolish,” “all” “never” “always,” I reject it out of hand. Whether or not that’s wise, it’s me.

    Listen again, he said reduce it to a small office in Treasury to collect, which with his tax proposal would be the case.

    • #26
  27. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    I Walton: The point is that with no variation, and no exception, the IRS just receives funds and accounts for them. They would have no discretion.

    We don’t have to impose a VAT to draft tighter tax laws with less discretion.

    I Walton: Moreover New Zealand is a low population and doesn’t have 50 state tax collection authorities so it’s all pretty much Wellington.

    I’m at work, so I don’t have the time to add up the combined employment numbers for every state taxing agency to see if the total number of “revenuers” per citizen comes out similar to New Zealand’s, but I doubt it.

    A VAT will inherently require lots of agents and enforcement because of the much greater temptation of smuggling components. Moreover, I have absolutely no faith whatsoever that a VAT will cause a reduction of income tax rates. After all, the income tax was supposed to never get above 6%, and we know how that turned out.

    • #27
  28. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    As bureaucracies age, they get worse. This has been true of NASA, the EPA, public schools and, yes, the IRS. One shudders to think of where the TSA will be in 10 or 20 years.

    Killing bureaucracies is fine with me. Even if the IRS is reborn, if it has a new and much simpler tax code, then there will be less abuse of power. And less targeting of political opponents.

    • #28
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I Walton: Listen again, he said reduce it to a small office in Treasury to collect, which with his tax proposal would be the case.

    I’m not talking about last night, I Walton. I’m talking about his original statement, way back, and I believe over several debates. I realize the first time he said “abolish the IRS” was probably for dramatic effect, but that’s the kind of statement that I dislike.

    • #29
  30. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    The funny thing is there’s a progressive argument in simplifying the tax code. One reason big money donors donate so much money is to manipulate the tax code in their favor. Cut off one of the big reasons to throw big money at politicians the demand side you minimize the supply. Of course for this reason the tax code will never be simplified. Congress can wield too much power thru a complex tax system.

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.