America’s “voluntary” tax system
At the House Ways and Means hearings on Friday, Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller said (among many other jaw-dropping things) that the problems at his agency could be boiled down to “horrible customer service.” Of course, “customers” patronize businesses voluntarily. There’s nothing voluntary about the relationship between the IRS and American citizens.
But Miller also described the tax system as “voluntary.” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) supported him. Of course, every sane person listening to this drivel immediately declared their desire to un-volunteer.
A sharp-eyed Twitter correspondent, TalkRadio200, spotlighted at Twitchy.com remembered hearing this “voluntary tax system” line before. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) peddled it during an unintentionally hilarious interview with a very patient, but persistent, host named Jan Helfeld in 2008:
It’s a very illuminating exchange that says a lot about the liberal mindset. (And also the clueless arrogance of Harry Reid, who apparently forgot about the ubiquitous system of paycheck withholding for income taxes in the United States, and scrambles to recover with the hysterically funny claim that withholding is an uncommon practice reserved to certain programs. It’s impossible for anyone with lick of common sense to watch this part of the conversation without laughing out loud.)
This idea didn’t originate with Reid. He’s just twisting it into a pretzel of Orwellian socialist rhetoric because he doesn’t want to admit that the government uses force to redistribute income. Tax preparation software company Turbo Tax offers a concise summary of the voluntary taxation concept:
The nature of the voluntary tax system in the U.S. takes the calculation of taxes owed out of the hands of the federal government. You are responsible as an individual taxpayer to calculate what you owe. You’re expected to voluntarily comply with the tax code by reporting what you owe to the government and paying the entire amount that you owe under the law.
The Internal Revenue Code is the law of the land when it comes to determining your tax liability. While you may be able to take a deduction here or there that’s in a gray area, and you may be able to argue that you have complied with all applicable tax laws, the taxes that you are legally required to pay are outlined in the IRC.
Although the U.S. tax system is voluntary, failure to comply carries stiff penalties. If you under-report your income or overstate your deductions, you’ll face fines and interest charges. If you fail to file a tax return, the IRS will file a substitute return based only on the information it has — meaning you likely won’t receive the benefit of any deductions and will end up paying more tax than you should. The IRS also has the power to levy your bank accounts, garnish your wages and place a lien on your property if you don’t voluntarily pay what you owe. In serious cases, you may even face criminal charges.
In other words, the “voluntary” aspect of taxation is that you’re allowed to figure up your own tax liability, either on your own or by hiring professional assistance. It has nothing to do with the nature of taxation itself, or your obligation to participate in the system, which is why Reid makes such a fool of himself when he tries to portray American taxation as some kind of free-willed community-spirit activity, compared to the dictatorial income seizures of certain other unspecified governments. He does eventually get around to an essentially correct definition of “voluntary taxation,” but connoisseurs of the absurd will find much to savor before he gets there.
Socialists love to appropriate the language of free enterprise to cloak their agenda of compulsory income redistribution. They frequently refer to taxes as “contributions.” When they want to raise taxes, they describe it as “asking” the targets of class warfare to “pay their fair share.” Their endless references to “fairness” are meant to portray them as noble seekers of cosmic balance, obeying transcendent principles, rather than greedy politicians hungry to confiscate more loot from the people who earned it.
And when the government spends money, its faithful acolytes sanctify the process by calling it “investment” – which is perverse and ludicrous, because investment is voluntary, and investors suffer the consequences of poor or unlucky decisions, unlike the super-State and its unicorn-powered Treasury printing presses.
Therefore, it’s not surprising to hear these silly efforts to portray the IRS as an operation “customers” would “voluntarily” patronize. They like to think of the entire bloated central government in those terms, as a loving maternal caretaker and “partner” that just wants to help good people achieve their dreams. They know what the IRS really is, they understand the obscene amounts of power it commands, and they appreciate the deadly consequences to republican self-government when those powers are abused for political ends. They just don’t want you thinking about those weighty issues. Much tyranny can be hidden behind a smiley-face pin.
It would be great if the defenders of liberty could retake the English language from these hooligans, depriving them of a vital tool for herding gullible people down the socialist rat hole. I’d stay away from playing these little word games with “voluntary taxation” if I were them. Few of us are gullible enough to swallow that without choking on it.