The scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups reinforces an important point — the IRS is a weapon. It was a weapon utilized by the Clinton administration in the 1990s, and it appears that the Obama administration has taken a page out of Clinton’s book.
Whether or not the White House was directly involved in the current IRS scandal, one thing is clear: the IRS is too easily politicized and can be used as a hammer to crush political opponents.
Even worse, the fear the IRS inspires has a chilling effect on political discourse. How many times has the IRS avoided criticism because the word “AUDIT” flashed like a neon sign in the critic’s mind’s eye?
Unfortunately, it took a scandal to bring this fact to the political foreground.
The income tax code is so notoriously complex and arbitrary that even well-intentioned IRS agents have a tough time determining exactly what it means. When different IRS officials are given the same tax return, they often come to different conclusions about the amount of tax owed. Such a system is ripe with the potential for abuse.
This particular scandal is making headlines because the IRS chose to use its power to target political opponents. Its true colors were revealed for all to see.
However, the IRS uses the same tactics of intimidation and abuse every day against average Americans all across our country. It’s the agency’s standard operating procedure. Unfortunately, the IRS’s abuses are so commonplace that only a scandal of this magnitude reminds us of what an awful, tyrannical institution it really is.
Because of this outrage, many will no doubt call for reforming the IRS. While reform might be beneficial, it would not address the root problem.
The root problem is the income tax system itself. It is a system that unfairly punishes hard work and ambition, that compromises our financial privacy, that fuels the growth of government, and that, as we are once again witnessing, can be used as a lethal political weapon.
Except for a brief period during and immediately following the Civil War, the United States had no federal income tax between its founding and the passage of the Revenue Act of 1913. We still had roads, schools, a strong military, police, and a postal system. We also experienced an unprecedented expansion of wealth and prosperity as well as ever-rising standards of living. During this period, the only contact most American had with the federal government was when they visited the post office. Wouldn’t that be a welcome change?
Instead of concentrating solely on the partisan aspects of this scandal, policymakers should recognize that the federal income tax system is inherently and irreparably flawed. It cannot be reformed. It should be abolished. Optimally, it should be replaced with nothing.
As Ronald Reagan said: Government isn’t the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.
And there is arguably no arm of the federal government more problematic than the Internal Revenue Service.
Glenn Jacobs is an entertainer and liberty activist. He is the co-founder of the Tennessee Liberty Alliance, a free-market educational organization.