I’m not a big fan of the Internal Revenue Service, though I try to make sure that politicians get much of the blame for America’s convoluted, punitive, and unfair tax code.
But there is an office at the IRS that ostensibly exists to defend the interests of taxpayers. The Taxpayer Advocate Service is, according to the government website, “an independent organization within the IRS and helps taxpayers resolve problems with the IRS and recommend changes that will prevent the problems.” The head of this office, Nina Olson, has the title of National Taxpayer Advocate.
Sounds good, right?
Well, not so fast. The TAS does some good things, but Ms. Olson spends at least part of her time advocating for the government.
Among the other problems Olson identifies in the report are … the underfunding of the Internal Revenue Service … The IRS, which Olson compares to the accounts receivable department of a company, should be fenced off from more budget cuts by Congress, she writes in the report.
Don’t rub your eyes or clean your glasses. You read correctly. The folks at the IRS who supposedly are advocating for you are instead advocating for a bigger IRS budget.
I debunked this silly argument last year, explaining why Congress should reject the Obama Administration’s assertion that more money for the IRS would be an “investment” that would yield big returns.
But I want to be fair. Some of what the TAS does is worth applauding. The report also discusses the grotesque levels of complexity in the code. Here’s more of the Bloomberg story:
The U.S. tax system’s most serious problem is the 4-million-word code’s excessive complexity that makes it tough for taxpayers to comply with and difficult for the government to administer, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson wrote in an annual report to Congress. The tax code cost taxpayers and businesses $168 billion in compliance in 2010… “Lowering rates in exchange for broadening the tax base would be an excellent bargain,” says the report, released today in Washington. “We are confident that in the end, public support for a simpler code will be strong and deep.”
The TAS also produced this very depressing infographic. It’s absolutely disgraceful that complying with the tax code requires the equivalent of 3 million full-time workers. It’s a vast understatement to call this a counterproductive misallocation of labor.
Or how about the fact that just the guidance for the income tax, when printed out, creates a stack of paper more than 12 inches high? And what about the nauseating little tidbit that the tax code has been changed more than once per day since 2001?
No wonder it’s such a corrupt mess. Isn’t it time we rip up the entire tax code and put in place something simple and fair like a flat tax? Here’s my case for real tax reform.
By the way, I’m also more than willing to replace the tax code with a national sales tax, perhaps something like the Fair Tax. I’ve given speeches, testified to Congress, appeared on TV, and done all sorts of things to promote that idea.
But the one huge caveat is that we need to make sure that the politicians don’t pull a bait and switch and stick us with both an income tax and national sales tax. Which is what happened in Europe when governments implemented the value-added tax without repealing income taxes.
That’s why we would first need to get rid of the income tax and repeal the 16th Amendment. But then, because I don’t trust the Supreme Court (gee, I wonder why?), I would also want to replace the 16th Amendment with new language that would be so ironclad that even Chief Justice John Roberts couldn’t fabricate reasons why an income tax could ever return to plague the nation.
But since we can’t even get the votes to approve a watered-down balanced budget amendment, I’m not holding my breath for the day that the Constitution is amended to permanently kill the income tax.
And that’s why I think the flat tax is a safer option.
The worst thing that happens if we get a flat tax is that politicians change their mind and we degenerate back to the current system.
The worst thing that happens if we get a national sales tax is that politicians “forget” to eliminate the income tax, we wind up with both, and become France.