Taxes and Tax Cheats

The word was out: someone we know knows someone that knows that they face possible prosecution for tax evasion.  This information is supposed to elicit shock and awe from the listener.  It’s supposed to be equated with financial crimes of the highest order.  If someone doesn’t pay their taxes, some of us are led to believe that we will have to pay more as a result.  Good and honest men include it in their diatribe for why they should be considered good men, “I look out for my family, I work hard, and I pay my taxes.”  As a Catholic school boy that got caught for every misdeed he attempted, I would never attempt such a move, but in the long list of crimes that people could commit, I largely consider tax evasion a victimless crime.

Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle

Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle

Before we go any further, it’s only responsible for me to include the qualifier that no one should cheat on their taxes, and I do not condone, or encourage anyone to try to evade them.  But there is a rider that I would include in this blog that while two wrongs never make a right, I would never look down on a person that tries to cheat the government of whatever revenue they can, because –as evidenced by the various administrations, and the sessions of Congress that have occurred as long as I’ve been paying attention— they’ll cheat you every chance they get.

I’m sure there is a psychological term for the idea that most humans remain moral and law-abiding, based on a fear of what the neighbors might think.  I know that was in play in my grade school.  “I heard what happened,” someone once said to me in the hallway, as I made my way to the bathroom.  “I heard you got a ‘D’.”  The ‘D’, in this person’s whisper, stood for detention.  I didn’t even know this person.  They weren’t in my grade, and to my mind they didn’t have an avenue for attaining this information.  They knew though.  They knew I had a scarlet letter ‘D’ on my head.  I vividly remembered the days I had detention.  I would walk the halls and see people look at me, and think that they all knew, and this kid, and his whisper, did not make help with those feelings of paranoia.

The point is that we did it to ourselves.  The point is that a detention basically amounted to one half hour after school, but in that one half hour, a half hour’s worth of students would pass by the classroom where you were forced to do busy work.  A half hour’s worth of students would know, and they would tell their friends, who would tell their friends, and on and on until everyone knew … you got a ‘D’.

If school administrators sat down with teachers to try and devise a way to add weight to their various punishments, I don’t think they could’ve found a way to top that which the condemnation group-thought could achieve.  The Founding Fathers knew about this ploy, they counted on this group-thought condemnation dominating their new country for which they didn’t have the law enforcement officials necessary. They believed, and hoped, that the people would self-regulate and self-police themselves, and their neighbors, with the fear of a deity.

With that in mind, a true tax revolt would be impossible in this country, for far too many people have been conditioned to believe that evading taxes, in any way, is immoral, and a direct reflection on their personal integrity.  And if you were one that joined such a tax revolt, your friends and family could rightly say that you should find it difficult to judge yourself a good and honest person, and no matter how much you disagree with the manner in which the federal government wastes your tax dollars, two wrongs do not make a right.  There’s gotta be a better way, these friends would rightly say to you.

Two wrongs do not make a right, but in 2009 we had a president nominate a tax cheat to head one of the primary tax enforcement agencies: the Treasury Department, and prior to that our Federal Reserve Board nominated that same tax evader to be the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  We also had former Majority Leader of the Senate Tom Daschle attempt to cheat on his taxes, but he paid it all back, so it’s apparently a nonstory now.  We then received a report from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that in 2011, federal government employees owed $3.5 billion in back taxes.  I’m not sure if they paid this back, and if it’s received the nonstory designation yet.  Then we received information that purports that top IRS officials allegedly used the power of their office to defeat a political opponent.  When these top IRS officials were questioned by Congress about these activities, they were at the very least evasive, and possibly lying, in their testimonies to Congress.

I would never cheat on my taxes, and again, I do not encourage or endorse doing it, but if I were allowed to legally circumvent certain taxes, however, that a majority of those with this psychological condition consider unpatriotic, as Walgreen’s, Burger King, and numerous other corporations have done with the United States’ federal corporate taxes, I would do so so quickly that those that believe I should feel guilty would be surprised by my smile.  Do people genuinely believe that legally circumventing taxes is wrong and unpatriotic, or are they jealous that they can’t do it?  Do they genuinely believe that a majority of our tax dollars go to help the disadvantaged?  Do these people have cable, or access to the internet, or a radio where they can hear how much waste, fraud, abuse, and redundancies occur with our tax dollars?  How can they genuinely build up animosity for Burger King and not have any hard feelings for the politicians that waste our money with glee?  Or do they live in a zero-sum world where they believe that if Burger King doesn’t pay their taxes, they will have to pay more to make up for it?

I’m old enough to remember a day when Vice-President Al Gore was listed as the spokesman for the “government is out of control” mantra on late night talk shows.  We all giggled when Al Gore trotted out glass ashtrays to illustrate the inanity of some Federal regulations, the Vice President demonstrated how the Government tests glass ash trays by smashing them against a wooden board.  He stated that some odd billions of dollars were wasted on studying how these glass ashtrays broke, and in how many pieces.  He used this to enter into the argument about how he and President Bill Clinton were going to reinvent government.

The unspoken theme of Al Gore’s appearance was that the last twelve years of Republican administrations had lost track of some sensible guidelines for how government should operate.  Al Gore, and the Clinton administration, did little-to-nothing to curb that spending, nor did the subsequent administrations.  It’s all adding up, as I wrote, until our eyes glaze over, and the audacity of hope becomes an acceptance of that which none of us can control.

So, when a friend of mine informed me that a friend of a friend of hers faces possible prosecution for tax evasion, my initial reaction was, “Hey, if they’re going to waste our money, and hoard it to the point that Washington D.C. is now the richest city in the United States, why would I care that a fellow American is doing whatever he can to keep his?”

Other than possible incarceration, and the paying fines, what keeps us from revolting against the tax system in this country is this shared psychological condition we have that we don’t want to cheat the government of our money for fear of what it says about us, and what our neighbors will think of us.  If more of us would flip this paradigm on our elected officials saying, if we’re going to be responsible tax paying citizens, you should be responsible tax collectors that do responsible things with our money.  We won’t, of course, because we live with this belief that they’re our best and brightest, and they know what they’re doing.  My fear is that they do, and they know psychology far better than we do, and we’ll remain right where they want us.



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