Rebirth of Reason


Transparency In Government
by Jeff Landauer

After recent business scandals in the US, critics have called for more transparency in business. With better transparency, we can hold people accountable for their misdeeds and better direct our investment dollars. Meanwhile, civil libertarians are complaining about President Bush's nontransparent military tribunals for our enemies in the War Against Terror. A free country is supposed to avoid such things as back-room trials and unrestrained interrogations, because we want to hold members of government responsible for adhering to the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and innocence until proven guilty as a part of that.

Transparency is a good thing -- especially in government, for the government has the most potential for going awry given their monopoly on force and the ease with which they use and abuse that force. Transparency in organization is the state of clarity, when it is clear whom in that organization is doing what and for what reasons. Democratic forms of government especially require transparency. Without a clear idea of what is going on, the voters would be voting blindly.

While the US government generally does a good job at refraining from the closed-off back room sorts of activities that dictatorships are famous for, it has become a master of opacity through confusion, misdirection, and information overload. Does anyone know how much he pays in taxes? If you add up federal income tax, state income tax, property tax, social security deductions both on the employee and employer side of the paycheck, sales tax (state, county, and city), dog license fees, airline taxes (up to 40%), hotel tax (43%), utility taxes, and the various "sin taxes" including gasoline (54%), alcohol (72%), cigarettes (82%), and firearms (46%), what does it come to? The Americans for Tax Reform estimates that the average American family pays more in total taxes than it spends on food, clothing, and shelter combined.

With all these taxes, it's clearly not clear how much we're being taxed. If each individual had to cut a check at the end of each year that was greater than what he paid for food, shelter, and clothing combined for that year, then I guarantee he wouldn't feel the same way about taxes as he does now. The taxes are split up, hidden, imbedded, and obfuscated practically every way possible. But the worst part is the IRS' favorite phrase, "voluntary compliance", which seeks to misdirect the very nature of taxation.

Taxation is an example of brute force. It's an example of might makes right. It is extortion on a scale the mafia can only dream about. The worst lack of transparency with taxation is that we pretend that it's not an issue of force. Whether or not our neighbor or a majority of our neighbors is in favor of various taxes is beside the point. The point is that if any American citizen fails to "voluntarily comply" with the IRS' demands, then he will be given a chance to make amends by paying extra penalties and interest on back taxes owed. If he still refuses he will be ordered to jail. If he resists arrest, he will be shot. This interaction is no different than an interaction with any armed thug who wants your money.

Of course, the government saying, "Your money or your life," is still not really what's going on. Like any slaveholder, the government doesn't want to kill off its chattel unnecessarily. That's why they try to give all uncooperative "voluntary compliers" nice short term white-collar prison sentences to try to get them back into voluntary compliance. The choice isn't "your money or your life" -- there's no choice at all. It's just, "Your life -- we, the government, own it."

So, in the spirit of increased transparency so that we as voters and watchdogs of government can better understand what is going on, I propose that the IRS be abolished and their annual budget of $9.4 billion be used to hire 350,000 professional government thugs with Billy clubs; we'll call them "tax collectors". These tax collectors will go around and sneak up behind victims and strike them on the heads with their Billy clubs, taking the wallets of said victims -- we'll call the appropriated contents of the wallets "taxes".

While I doubt 350,000 Billy club toting tax collectors can collect nearly enough revenue to pay for current outlays, we should bear in mind that our current system doesn't pay nearly enough for current outlays, so that must not be an issue. The current national debt is around $6 trillion, or $21,388 per citizen -- what's another few hundred billion?

There are many upsides beside the obvious new transparency. For one, American citizens can save the $200 billion that they spend each year on "tax lawyers, accountants, and other costs associated with tax compliance." In addition, the gross inequity that we have now, where the 2.7% most productive and innovative of the population pays 50% of the federal income tax would be replaced by a system where the slow and stupid would most likely be hit up by the roving tax collectors. While neither system is just, my proposed system would be more just than the current one. A third benefit of the new tax collection system would be the 350,000 jobs that would be created. This would be a boon to our large population of ex-convicts created by our war on drugs, who ordinarily have trouble finding gainful employment due to their prison records.

Why mess around with the obfuscation and deceptiveness of the current system? I'll take a good, honest, openly forceful mugging instead.

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