Tag: big government

Thursday Links

  • Nat Hentoff: If you’re looking for reform in Cuba, don’t rest your hopes on Raul Castro.
  • Tim Carney, author of Obamanomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses gives the inside scoop on why big government is good for big business.

H&R Block and the IRS: An Unholy Alliance to Ransack Taxpayers

The late George Stigler, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, is famous in part because of his work on “regulatory capture,” which occurs when interest groups use the coercive power of government to thwart competition and undeservedly line their own pockets. A perfect (and distasteful) example of this can be found in today’s Washington Post, which reports that the IRS plans to impose new regulations dictating who can prepare tax returns. Not surprisingly, the new rules have the support of big tax preparation shops such as H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt, which see this as an opportunity to squeeze smaller competitors out of the market. The IRS and the big firms claim more regulations are needed to protect consumers from shoddy work, but this is the usual rationale for licensing laws and other government-imposed barriers to entry and the Institute for Justice has repeatedly shown such rules are designed to benefit insiders rather than consumers.

Tax preparers do make many mistakes, to be sure, but that is a reflection of a nightmarish tax code, and the annual tax test conducted by Money magazine showed that even the most-skilled professionals – such as CPAs, tax lawyers, and enrolled agents – were unable to figure out how to correctly fill out a hypothetical family’s tax return. But since the IRS routinely makes major mistakes as well, perhaps the moral of the story is that we need fundamental tax reform, not IRS rules to create a cartel for the benefit of H&R Block and other big firms. Would any of this be an issue if we had a flat tax or national sales tax?

Great Moments in Foreign Government

German politicians apparently have been hot on the trail of evil evaders who did not pay tax on coffee ordered over the Internet. To address this terrible crisis, the government spent 800,000 euro and tracked down 4000 dangerous criminals. Shockingly, a few cynics, including the folks at Reuters, are trying to diminish this triumph by pointing out that the government spent 30 times more than it collected:

Germany spent more than 30 times as much collecting taxes on coffee beans ordered online from abroad than it received in the tax revenues, the accounting office said on Tuesday. Some 4,000 Germans who bought coffee over the Internet from other EU countries but failed to pay the coffee tax have been charged between a few cents to 10 euros ($14.81) in taxes and fees, said Dieter Engels, head of Germany’s Federal Accounting Office. Tax collectors ended up with just 25,000 euros, way below the 800,000 euros in the costs of staff charged with collecting the payments, Engels said.

The Global Warming Shakedown

Pat Michaels and others are working heroically to save America from global central planning for purposes of combatting global warming (or climate change, or whatever they’re calling it now). But let’s also be thankful this holiday season for our Founding Fathers, who wisely created a system based on separation of powers. If the United States had a parliamentary system, there would be no hope of derailing some of the statist schemes being discusssed in DC, even if Pat worked 24 hours a day.

The secretary of state, for instance, is issuing pronouncements about putting American tapxayers on the chopping block to help finance $100 billion per year of new “climate change” foreign aid. This money can only be squandered, however, if the House and Senate agree to do so. That’s a real possibility, of course, but at least there’s some hope that common sense will prevail since the fiscal burden of government already is far too large.

Here’s a NY Daily News report on what’s happening in Copenhagen, including worrisome signs that politicians who don’t pay for their own travel are planning to make the rest of us pay more for ours:

The U.S. is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs of developing countries,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

…While she would not disclose how much the U.S. would be contribution to the climate fund, Clinton said there would be a fair amount contributed to the pot that would be made available in 2020. The finances will reportedly be raised partially by taxing aviation and shipping, as proposed by the European Union.

Deficit Commission: Wrong Target, Wrong Approach

Legislation being considered on Capitol Hill would create a supposed deficit reduction commission. If politicians were bound by truth-in-advertising, this proposal would be called a tax increase commission. It creates a mechanism that will – at best – replicate the 1982 and 1990 budget summits, both of which were fiscal disasters from the perspective of those who favor limited government. The inevitable result of a “bipartisan” process is a 50/50 deal of “spending cuts” and “tax increases,” but the spending cuts are off the “baseline” (which assumes spending goes up), so even if the changes are real (and they rarely are), they are merely reductions in increases. The tax increases, meanwhile, are real and come on top of all the revenue growth built into current law. Moreover, many of the so-called spending cuts are actually increases in revenue (the “offsetting receipts” charade). Last but not least, this legislation is a stalking horse for VAT (that’s what all the talk about an “antiquated” tax system that needs to be “modernized” is all about).

What’s remarkable about this proposal is how Democrats are almost transparent in their desire to lure Republicans into committing political suicide. As demonstrated by the 1982 and 1990 budget deals, everything is examined through the prism of distribution tables once a budget summit or commission commences and the GOP inevitably comes across as the bad guys who try to protect the rich at the expense of the poor. Of course, if Republicans are really stupid enough to travel down this path, they’ll deserve exactly what happens. But some people in Washington are aware that the proposed commission is a recipe for a major tax hike. The Financial Times cites Cato’s Chris Edwards in its report:

The push for a bipartisan commission to deal with the fiscal challenges facing the US gained momentum on Wednesday as 27 senators sponsored revised legislation that would create such a task force. The bill, introduced by Democrat Kent Conrad and Republican Judd Gregg, both fiscal hawks, would charge an 18-member group of serving legislators and administration officials with coming up with a plan to solve what they called “the nation’s long-term fiscal imbalance”. …In a sign that the concept of such a commission is gaining ground politically, anti-tax activists immediately attacked the proposal, saying it would lead to tax increases. Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, published an open letter saying the “commission is unacceptable from a taxpayer perspective” because “it would lead to a guaranteed tax increase”. …Chris Edwards, director of tax policy at the small-government Cato Institute, said a commission was likely to put too much emphasis on tax increases when “long-term projections reveal a spending catastrophe, not a revenue challenge”.

One final comment. It is utterly absurd to categorize Senator Kent Conrad as a fisal hawk. This term supposedly suggests a member who actively pursues deficit reduction. Yet according to the vote rating of the National Taxpayers Union, Conrad’s most recent rating is an F. Which is the same grade he got the previous year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Indeed, Conrad “earned” failing grades in 14 out of 17 years, and got a D in the other three years.

Are You a Criminal? Maybe You Are and Don’t Know It

Yesterday, Michael Dreeben, the attorney representing the U.S. government, tried to defend the controversial “honest services” statute from a constitutional challenge in front of the Supreme Court.  When Dreeben informed the Court that the feds have essentially criminalized any ethical lapse in the workplace, Justice Breyer exclaimed,

[T]here are 150 million workers in the United States.  I think possibly 140 [million] of them flunk your test.

There it is.  Some of us have been trying to draw more attention to the dangerous trend of overcriminalization.  Judge Alex Kozinski co-authored an article in my book entitled “You’re (Probably) a Federal Criminal.”  And Cato adjunct scholar, Harvey Silverglate, calls his new book, Three Felonies a Day to stress the fact that the average professional unknowingly violates the federal criminal law several times each day (at least in the opinion of federal prosecutors).  Not many people want to discuss that pernicious reality. To the extent defenders of big government address the problem at all, they’ve tried to write it all off as the rhetoric of a few libertarian lawyers.  Given yesterday’s back-and-forth at the High Court, it is going to be much much harder to make that sort of claim.

For more on this subject, go here, here,  and here.

Taking Over Everything (2)

“My critics say that I’m taking over every sector of the economy,” President Obama complained to George Stephanopoulos back in September. And I responded:

Not every sector. Just

And now check out the lead story in Sunday’s Washington Post:

Federal Oversight of Subways Proposed

The Obama administration will propose that the federal government take over safety regulation of the nation’s subway and light-rail systems, responding to what it says is haphazard and ineffective oversight by state agencies.

Not everything. But more and more. So much that even the growing opposition can’t keep up with it all.