The Spectacle Blog

The IRS Scandal: It’s Not a Bug, It’s a Feature

By on 5.20.13 | 6:34AM

A 74,000-page tax code that no American citizen can possibly know or understand is the basis for our federal system of taxation. The current IRS scandal is not a bug in the system. Rather, this kind of behavior is a feature, long prized by the Ruling Elite in Washington, D.C. After all, what are the IRS and its byzantine set of laws, rules, and regulations if not instruments of political discrimination and thuggery?  They are consistently used by the Ruling Elite to hand out favors to its friends, and punishment to its enemies. This is not a failure, glitch or aberration in the system. This is the system.

The historical documentation is deep and wide. According to James Bovard, writing May 14, 2013 in the Wall Street Journal:

Many Republicans are enraged over revelations in recent days that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative nonprofit groups with a campaign of audits and harassment. But of all the troubles now dogging the Obama administration…the IRS episode, however alarming, is also the least surprising. As David Burnham noted in "A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power" (1990), "In almost every administration since the IRS's inception the information and power of the tax agency have been mobilized for explicitly political purposes."

And unfortunately, despite our widespread outrage, history does not provide a blueprint for a hopeful outcome of investigation and reform. Bovard continues in the WSJ:

The IRS has usually done an excellent job of stifling investigations of its practices. A 1991 survey of 800 IRS executives and managers by the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics revealed that three out of four respondents felt entitled to deceive or lie when testifying before a congressional committee.

There are those today who are calling for jail time for IRS personnel engaged in the current scandal. Yet I will venture a guess that those front-line employees engaged in the discriminatory activities currently exposed, and those surely yet to be revealed, were acting at the direction of their superiors, and were simply doing their jobs. While the thought may be shocking to us, it shouldn’t surprise us. This is how the IRS operates on a daily basis.

The IRS is the most powerful agency of the federal government, operating outside the bounds of law imposed on the rest of our society. More powerful than the president, they can seize your assets, including the direct withdrawal of money from your bank account, without a court order or any other type of supervision. This is not a mistake. They operate without constraint because Congress has set them up this way. This is virtually absolute power, and you know the truism about absolute power. 

The type of abuse we are seeing is the routine business of the IRS—creating misery for innocent people, demanding money, threatening, seizing assets: it’s all in a day’s work for the IRS. Asking ridiculous, intrusive, offensive questions to a group applying for a non-profit status—how is that so terrible compared with the day-to day-fear and abuse imposed by the IRS on a largely defenseless American public?

As for silencing critics, many business people have avoided politics for decades, or simply paid homage to the Ruling Elite via political donations, out of fear of the IRS. It’s a part of our political culture. And it is part of the purpose of the IRS, long supported by a bipartisan consensus of the Ruling Elite.

While I’m all for a full and deep investigation, unfortunately, based on the history of such inquiries, I remain skeptical that we will get it. And I think it may miss the point anyway. I’m in favor of a much deeper look at the IRS.

Really, now is a perfect time for a complete examination of the IRS's role in America. We ought to have the full discussion, including the idea of eliminating the scourge of the IRS completely, and pushing taxation authority back to the states, where it belong, and where the instruments of enforcement are more easily controlled by the people they are supposed to “serve.” After all, as Daniel Webster said arguing before the Supreme Court in McCulloch v. Maryland, “An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy,” 17 U.S. 327 (1819). 

Isn’t it time we returned to the liberty that was bequeathed to us by the Founders?  And isn’t the IRS, as designed, antithetical to that liberty?

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