April 16, 2012 1:36PM

The Joy of Tax

To celebrate Tax Day, NPR gives us a peppy, upbeat interview with the commissioner of the IRS, Douglas Shulman. Shulman enthuses:

“When people hear the letters, ‘I-R-S,’ sometimes they have a negative connotation,” Shulman says. “But 80 percent of Americans get an average of a $3,000 refund. So most people actually have a very pleasant experience with us.”

Alas, 80 percent of Americans are hornswoggled into giving the IRS an interest‐​free loan for up to 15 months, and then — or so the IRS assures us — they’re very happy to get their own money back, a year later, with no interest.

It reminds me of the maxim of Jean‐​Baptiste Colbert, minister of finance under the absolutist Louis XIV:

The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.

When you establish withholding so that most taxpayers don’t realize how much they’re paying, and then you “give” them a refund, apparently you can minimize the hissing. And I suppose that’s why Shulman tells NPR:

You hope every day’s going to be a good day in the morning when you wake up. When you’re IRS commissioner, most days are good days.

When you’re the taxpayer, not so much.