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ET TU, IRS? BRUTUS HAD IT RIGHT 210 YEARS AGO.

Byline: Gary M. Galles

THE Senate hearings into IRS taxpayer abuses exposed many of the reasons why it is the government agency people hate the most.

Horror stories ranged from an IRS error that ruined someone's life for more than a decade, to internal incompetence that had the IRS repeatedly refusing payment for a bill it continued to dun the taxpayer for, to fraud and blatant disregard for the law.

These abuses should hardly have come as a surprise, however. After all, these were the first Internal Revenue Service oversight hearings since its creation in 1862. Any abuses can be hidden behind the cover of protecting taxpayers' privacy rights, and Washington wants every penny of revenue the IRS takes the blame for collecting.

In fact, such abuses of federal taxing powers were anticipated more than two centuries ago by the Antifederalists.

The Antifederalists opposed the Constitution on the grounds that its checks on federal power would be undermined by expansive interpretations of promoting the ``general welfare'' (which would be claimed for all laws) and the ``all laws necessary and proper'' clause (which would expand limited federal power to one that was all-inclusive), leading to a federal government so powerful that its powers were bound to be abused.

One particular concern was that it gave the national government almost unlimited taxing discretion. Consider the argument of Brutus (Robert Yates, a delegate to the Philadelphia convention who withdrew because it was exceeding its instructions) in the 1787 New York Journal.

Brutus described federal taxing power in one letter as one ``that has such latitude, which reaches every person in the community in every conceivable circumstance, and lays hold of every species of property they possess, and which has no bounds set to it, but the discretion of those who exercise it.''

In another letter, he said that ``it will lead to the passing of a vast number of laws, which may affect the personal rights of the citizens of the states, expose their property to fines and confiscation, and put their lives in jeopardy. It opens the door to the appointment of a swarm of revenue and excise officers to prey upon the honest and industrious part of the community (and) eat up their substance.''

That sounds like a pretty good summary of the just-completed IRS hearings.

Brutus wrote that federal taxing powers ``will introduce such an infinite number of laws and ordinances, fines and penalties, courts and judges, collectors, and excise men, that when a man can number them, he may enumerate the stars of Heaven.''

This not only describes how the taxpayers testifying at the IRS hearings felt, it also describes millions of other Americans as they face the annual April torture of figuring out their taxes.

Brutus also clearly pointed out how invasive tax collection could become: ``This power, exercised without limitation, will introduce itself into every corner of the city and country, it will wait upon the ladies at their toilet, and will not leave them in any of their domestic concerns; it will accompany them to the ball, the play, and assembly; it will go with them when they visit, and will, on all occasions, sit beside them in their carriages, nor will it desert them even at church; it will enter the house of every gentleman, watch over his cellar, wait upon his cook in the kitchen, follow the servants into parlor, preside over the table, and note down all he eats or drinks; it will accompany him to his bedchamber, and watch him while he sleeps; it will take cognizance of the professional man in his office, or study; it will watch the merchant in the counting-house, or in his store; it will follow the mechanic to his shop, and in his work, and will haunt him in his family, and in his bed; it will be a constant companion of the industrious farmer in all his labor, it will be with him in the house, and in the field, observe the toil of his hands, and the sweat of his brow; it will penetrate into the most obscure cottage; and finally, it will light upon the head of every person in the United States. To all these different classes of people, and in all these circumstances, in which it will attend them, the language in which it will address them will be GIVE! GIVE!''

Brutus quite accurately describes both the causes (erosion of constitutional restraints on the size and scope of the federal government) and consequences of expanded federal taxing powers (citizens abused by its collection agency). But he was writing only of the effects of direct (or excise) taxes and the small federal government they could finance, long before the 16th Amendment overrode the tax uniformity clause and opened the way for a federal income tax in 1913.

If Brutus were here to witness the abuses inherent in the IRS' current half-trillion-dollar annual income tax collection ($1.5 trillion in total collections), he would conclude that he was far too optimistic. A federal government grown orders of magnitude larger than he could ever have imagined - something any IRS reforms will not change - virtually guarantees abuses beyond his worst nightmare.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 3, 1997
Words:866
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