Coming Soon: Less-Inconvenient Theft?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Farhad Manjoo, writing about "return-free" tax filing, asks, "Would you let the I.R.S. prepare your taxes?" Manjoo notes further that, in this day and age, many aspects of filling out tax returns are technologically unnecessary:

[E]mployers, banks, brokerage firms and pretty much every other financial organization in the country send the federal government detailed records about our economic activity every year. These organizations also send you, the taxpayer, a similar set of documents, which are forms with names like W-2 and 1098. After you file your taxes, the government matches its two sets of documents to make sure you have filed correctly.
The idea behind return-free filing is that, instead of wasting money or part of your life filling out forms, you could waste less by simply checking what the IRS comes up with for your taxes -- unless maybe your tax situation is made overly cumbersome by our 74,608-page-long tax code.

I will cheerfully admit that when I find myself again giving a company or government agency information it already has, I roll my eyes and think, "Don't we have computers for this?" That said, I think return-free filing is almost as bad an idea as automatic withholding. Both things insulate people from the arbitrary and confiscatory nature of the income tax. Making people consciously fork over money each month -- or continuing to go through inordinate efforts to calculate what will be taken from them -- will not automatically make people want to abolish the income tax. But it might prompt more thought than an automatically-generated number on their pay stubs that they don't have to think much about even once a year.

The question that too often goes unasked at tax time is, "By what right does the government take money from individuals?" In that light, the correct way to frame this proposal is, "Would you like to be robbed politely?" The correct answer, as tempting as not doing taxes sounds, is, "No. I don't want to be robbed at all."

-- CAV


Steve D said...

I had to think about this for a while to decide that I don't agree. Doesn't forcing people to fill out tax forms violate their rights twice, once with the theft and then once again because they are force to fill out their forms – a double evil? I realize you could argue that they are not really ‘forced’ to fill out their forms - even today – since you can just send in a signed, unfilled out form and all your receipts and the tax agency will calculate your tax bill for you. However, you will undoubtedly pay more tax that way since they won’t search too hard for deductions. So this argument seems akin the ‘convert or die’ argument that you weren’t really forced since you had a choice. The way things are now, you are forced to make a choice between a more massive violation of your rights and two separate violations of your rights.

Gus Van Horn said...


You raise a good point, and have me reconsidering my own position. (You could even argue that, so long as the OPTION to file the current way still exists, it would be a positive choice to try to shelter more money than just the waste of time that it is now.) Regardless, it is fewer violations of rights along the way to none than attempting to "nudge" people that should be the guiding principle behind any change like this.

Thanks for speaking up.


Vigilis said...

Gus, can we trust the I.R.S. to prepare our income taxes? What do you think?

More than 641,000 taxpayers had their identities stolen in 2011, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS continually increases its efforts against refund fraud, which includes identity theft. As a result of "aggressive efforts" to combat identity theft from 2011 through 2014, the IRS stopped 19 million suspicious returns and protected more than $63 billion in fraudulent refunds.

That is the "good" news, because the IRS still expects to disburse another $21 billion for fraudulent tax refunds in 2016. Add Earned Income Tax Credit abuse with its improper payment rate of 22 to 26 percent for another $13.3 billion to $15.6 billion Treasury loss (fiscal 2013).

Worse, what bind is an individual taxpayer in when he/she has a balance due and tries to beat a filing deadline? It's a no-go. The real filer's "duplicate" return is rejected because a refund was already issued under the filer's correct Social Security number. Now, the scammed legitimate taxpayer must:

Call the IRS phone number provided, prepare an "Identity Theft Affidavit" Form 14039, submit the 14039 with a photocopy of identification (driver's license, passport, Social Security card or government-issue ID), mail or fax as instructed, and perhaps make several copies for future needs such as student financial-aid audits.

As the government grows, it requires more operating funds. If it wastes 20% of existing funds, it will perpetually waste and demand more resources from taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, Gus,

I dunno. However I think that this idea of letting the IRS file your taxes for you is another step on the way to what the Labour Party Home Secretary in the UK floated a few years ago.

His idea, which was obviously a trial balloon and quickly deflated, was to have all British paychecks sent to the Exchequer who would then disburse the 'needed amounts' to Her Majesty's subjects.

While at first blush, that sounds like a logistical nightmare, it really wouldn't be any more cumbersome than the United States' practice of automatic withholding coupled with welfare disbursements.

I think that this whole process of making things easier on the taxpayer is just their selling point for 'making it easier on the IRS.' I think that it is very bad for the future of Liberty to give these petit tyran any more leisure time than they already have. I doubt that they would use such time to advance the cause of Liberty.

c andrew

PS. I would also like to see the tax filing date moved to October 31st. First, it is an appropriate date for gov't bloodsuckers. Second, its proximity to Election Day might have a salutary effect.

Gus Van Horn said...

Vigilis and C.,

The issues you raise illustrate quite well why I didn't credit Steve with changing my mind.

Until there is a sizeable and reliable pro-capitalist faction in this country almost ANY proposed law or policy change should be viewed with a heavy dose of skepticism.


James Stork said...

The easiest and most economical way to do taxes for all is to abolish cash and just have a flat tax on all money transfers. If they really want to audit our lives, we would really have to be stealthy to hide larger cash transactions. That way the government can capture money for illicit transactions that are currently under the radar, like the drug trade. All that would be left would be barter to avoid taxes. According to the trial of Hank Rearden, the only difference between a thief and the government is that the government "asks" your permission.

Gus Van Horn said...


I am not interested in the government taxing us economically, but in doing away with taxation altogether. (See last link in post.) This is a long-term goal that probably will not be realized in my lifetime, so I am in the meantime looking for ways that at least head in that direction without further aggrandizing the power of our corrupt government to violate individual rights. Your proposal would greatly add to the potential for government abuse, such as by making enforcement of improper laws, like those against drugs, easier.

That said, I am curious as to the exact source of your contention that Howard Roark claimed that government is basically a criminal syndicate. (Our current one is in many respects, but government as such isn't). Based on other things Rand said regarding government, this is either wrong or out of context.