Commentary

A Monstrosity … Forcing Us to Think

By Stephen Moore
This article was published in the Washington Times, April 14, 2003.

Many years ago I framed on the wall of my office a classic “Peanuts” cartoon that shows Snoopy sitting on top of his dog house pecking away at his typewriter, and the message he writes is: “Dear IRS: Please take me off your mailing list.”

If only it were that easy. With the dreaded April 15 tax filing day just passed, millions of us can empathize with our dear friend Snoopy. So for those like me who may still be recovering from that infamous day, here are some vital statistics about the monstrosity of the tax code we’ve created in America. (Thanks to Money magazine for many of these items.)

  • Thirty percent of the time, callers to the IRS telephone 1-800 help line get a busy signal, a recorded message, are disconnected or receive the wrong information.
  • Between 1986 and 1998 the IRS wasted $5 billion on a computer system that didn’t work.
  • The IRS once seized all the money in Katie Wier’s bank account to pay her parent’s delinquent taxes. Katie is 6 years old. The IRS collected $26.
  • An old man entered the IRS office in New Orleans bleeding after he caught his hand in the door. He asked for help, but instead of offering even a Band-Aid, the IRS officers joked that they would be happy to take more of his blood.
  • The first income tax in 1913 required that just 2 percent of American families complete a tax return. The highest tax rate then was 7 percent.
  • Businesses will spend about 3.4 billion man-hours and individuals about 1.7 billion hours figuring out their taxes this year. That is the equivalent of 3 million people working full time all year round just doing tax preparation work. This is more people than now serve in the U.S. armed forces. It is more manhours than are required to build every car, van and truck in the United States.
  • “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the federal income tax.” So said Albert Einstein.
  • The Gettysburg Address runs about 270 words. The Declaration of Independence has 1,337 words. The Holy Bible runs about 773,000 words. But our income tax code runs about 7 million words and is still growing.
  • The IRS now sends out 8 billion pages of papers to taxpayers every year. Ending the income tax would save thousands of trees.
  • In 1988 the IRS seized the $10.35 from Garry Keffer’s savings account. Garry, who was 12 years old, took matters into his own hands and wrote to President Ronald Reagan. “I am now feeling distrustful of the United States due to my financial devastation.”
  • “The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than the game of golf.” Will Rogers, 1924.
  • Taxes now account for 31 percent of the cost of a loaf of bread, 30 percent of the cost of a hotel room, and 43 percent of the price of a bottle of beer.
  • If the IRS pasted together all of the paperwork it receives annually, it would wrap around the Earth roughly 36 times.
  • In 1894, here is how the New York Times described the first income tax to pass Congress: “A vicious, inequitable, unpopular, impolitic, and socialistic act. … The crusade for an income tax is the most unreasoning and un-American movement in the politics of the last quarter-century.”
  • A Money magazine poll once found that 70 percent of the members of Congress on the two major tax writing committees — House Ways and Means and Senate Finance — cannot figure out their own returns and used professional tax preparers.
  • Finally, if you’re late paying your income taxes this year, try this excuse on for size, as reported in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago:
    Some late filers are taking their psychiatrists along with their lawyers to explain a new malady to the IRS — “The failure to file syndrome.” New York attorney Robert Fink says he defended a throat surgeon recently who hadn’t filed federal income taxes for 10 years because of “an aversion to filling out forms.”

Hey, I suffer from that affliction too.

Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.