‘None of these people have any incentive to undertake the job of decreasing the complexity of the tax system.’
primatologist writes: If most people in the US knew the truth about the tax system in their country, there would be blood in the streets. Most individuals file a very simple federal income tax return – perhaps they take a few deductions for their mortgage interest, medical costs and the like. But this annual experience for the vast majority of Americans gives them a very skewed view of the great mass of the US tax system – it is the tiniest visible sign of an enormous tumor that grows beneath the surface, invisible to most US citizens and tax payers.
“This is how it works: To escape the high tax rates on business activities in the US, armies of lobbyists work ceaselessly to insert arcane, narrow exceptions and exemptions into federal and state tax laws at the legislative level. The exceptions and exemptions are as narrow as possible and often use very convoluted and technical language. The use of opaque language is intentional: it helps legislators avoid the kind of political trouble that comes from handing out tax exemptions.”
Two facts that are rarely discussed by the US media and which never come to the attention of the majority of US individual taxpayers illustrate this: The US has by far the highest corporate income tax rate of any developed country (and among the highest marginal tax rates for individuals who live in high tax states), and the US has an incredibly large and complex structure of tax laws. While most US taxpayers don’t know about the relatively high rates of US taxation, the crucial reality of the US tax system that is hidden from almost everyone is the insane complexity of the US tax code that applies to investment and business activities.
“Why uncertainty? Because as the tax laws and regulations become more and more complex, and the language in which they are expressed becomes more and more divorced from normal usage, only very intelligent people who spend all their time doing nothing but learning and manipulating tax language can even begin to know what the laws and rules mean.”
This is how it works: To escape the high tax rates on business activities in the US, armies of lobbyists work ceaselessly to insert arcane, narrow exceptions and exemptions into federal and state tax laws at the legislative level. The exceptions and exemptions are as narrow as possible and often use very convoluted and technical language.
The use of opaque language is intentional: it helps legislators avoid the kind of political trouble that comes from handing out tax exemptions. (There is also the factor that legislators all play the game of “I’ll vote for your campaign contributor’s tax exemption if you’ll vote for mine.”) Tax authorities (that’s the IRS for the federal government, but it happens at the state and local level, too, in high-tax states and cities) create voluminous regulations to implement these tax laws. Lobbyists also work to influence that process, as well as returning to the legislature to create exceptions to the exceptions to the exceptions created in the regulations.
“Trying to undo the complexity of the tax code would reveal all this incredible responsive complexity: And it would cause massive economic losses. Trillions and trillions of dollars worth of value is invested in ways that are structured in response to the complexity of our tax laws. Without those giant stacks of tax rules and exceptions and exceptions to exceptions, etc., those investment and business operations structures would not make sense legally or economically.”
Meanwhile, “tax planning” to take advantage of this constantly growing and increasingly complex web of laws and regulations becomes a bigger and bigger part of how businesses structure their enterprises and investments. “Tax planning” is carried out by armies of accountants and lawyers and consultants, all of whom are handsomely paid to do work that contributes nothing to economic growth or prosperity.
[Also see – Nobody Knows How Many Federal Agencies Exist]
The work of the “tax planning” professionals becomes more and more complex and incomprehensible to those outside their fraternity, as it is essentially the incantation of linguistic “magic spells” that have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual business enterprise, and everything to do with fitting into the ever-more-convoluted language of the tax codes. More and more layers of complexity are added, each with additional cost and uncertainty.
“The same process applies to entirely domestic business. Entrepreneurs and investors spend huge amounts of money on lawyers, accountants and consultants to create complex – and completely unnecessary – corporate and operational structures aimed solely at taking advantages of complex tax benefits.”
Why uncertainty? Because as the tax laws and regulations become more and more complex, and the language in which they are expressed becomes more and more divorced from normal usage, only very intelligent people who spend all their time doing nothing but learning and manipulating tax language can even begin to know what the laws and rules mean.
“One consequence of this process that everyone who is involved in international business knows very well is that no one wants to do business in the United States if they can help it.“
And they won’t all agree – until a very clear case is litigated to conclusion in a court or the IRS issues a “clarification,” it’s all just educated guesses. By the time a term comes to have well-understood meaning, the exceptions to the rules that use that term – using new words that were intentionally difficult to understand in the first place – have to be interpreted and clarified.
“And here’s the real horror: No one outside the fraternity of tax regulators, lobbyists, tax lawyers, accountants and consultants really perceives how enormous the structure of tax complexity is. Investors and entrepreneurs learn no more than they have to – just what they have to know to do the specific deal they’re working on or carry out their own narrow business operations.”
This process has been going on for well over a hundred years with no let up. In fact, the scale and complexity of the tax codes continues to grow exponentially, as the feedback process of high tax rates leading to exceptions leading to exceptions to exceptions continues ad infinitum.
“Unwinding all that complexity would wipe out huge swathes of the US economy – and create a whole new set of winners and losers that has nothing to do with the underlying matter of actually creating real value in the real world.”
One consequence of this process that everyone who is involved in international business knows very well is that NO ONE WANTS TO DO BUSINESS IN THE UNITED STATES IF THEY CAN HELP IT. This is the world I work in. In my professional world it is simply taken for granted that people with money to invest will do anything in their power to structure their business so that no possible argument can be made that they did business or invested in the US. Companies and wealthy individuals go to extreme lengths to avoid putting any kind of investment into the US if it is at all possible.
Does this mean that no one invests in US businesses? No. The US consumer market is too big, and innovation in the US is too valuable for that to be true. What it does mean, though is that below a certain very large scale, it just doesn’t pay. Even more important, it also means that every investment in the US is “taxed” in a way that does no one (outside of the business of avoiding tax) any good: Huge amounts of money are spent creating unnecessary complexity to minimize US taxation as much as possible: Extra layers of incorporation and complex accounting structures are created to do everything possible to minimize the amount of income earned in the US. All that time, effort and money spent avoiding US taxation adds to the cost of investment without creating one dime of revenue for the US government. Finally, foreign investors in the US do everything they can to get their money out of the US as quickly as possible: The more time an investment is exposed to US tax law, the larger the chance that some tax law magic spell will be countered by some other tax law magic spell and – BANG! – there go all the profits. Read the rest of this entry »
“Commissioner violated the public trust. He failed to comply with a congressionally issued subpoena, documents were destroyed on his watch, and the public was consistently misled.”
“Impeachment is the appropriate tool to restore public confidence in the IRS and to protect the institutional interests of Congress. This action will demonstrate to the American people that the IRS is under repair, and signal that Executive Branch officials who violate the public trust will be held accountable.”
— Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz in a news release
Though it has been in place since 1967, some of us don’t fully understand—or take advantage of—the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The act, often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government, requires federal agencies to disclose requested information. While there are nine specific exemptions, the FOIA grants citizens a wide range of information controlled by the U.S. government.
As election season nears, and in light of an outbreak of high profile investigations into government dealings, FOIA requests have gained currency as an indispensable tool to shed light on the inner workings of public affairs.
Especially in the internet age, citizens should have free and unrestricted access to government information. As an essential tool to gain access to the troves of electronic information at the heart of the biggest, most important government disputes, FOIA requests are crucial for a transparent democracy. But to tap into the heaps of information, electronic and otherwise, you need to know how to file a request and identify the nine exemptions. This infographic clearly details the process of filing a request under the act as well as what happens once a request is made.
Are Conservatives a Little Paranoid? The Obama Administration has ‘Richly Earned Citizens’ Distrust’, says David FrenchPosted: May 11, 2015
No, the Obama administration isn’t going to invade Texas
David French writes:
…Let’s not forget that more than half of Democrat voters thought it was “very” or “somewhat” likely that the Bush administration either “assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop the attacks because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East.” Let that sink in: For all the elite’s disdain of allegedly gullible conservatives, a majority of the Left believed that an American president was complicit in mass murder.
But extreme paranoia wasn’t limited to the Democratic rank and file. As National Review’s own Rich Lowry pointed out, Naomi Wolf (former campaign consultant to Bill Clinton and Al Gore) actually wrote a book explaining how the Bush administration was mirroring the early actions of dictatorships like those in Germany, Russia, and China. Harper’s Magazine published breathless stories about a barely averted Bush administration “coup” or “military dictatorship.” Even as recently as 2013, the National Journal published an article claiming that military officers were considering “staging a coup” against President Obama — the basis for the claim was a series of statements by a retired general who specifically declared that no coup was being contemplated.
In this atmosphere of earned distrust, it is appropriate for elected officials to ask questions about even benign and well-meaning military exercises. No, the Obama administration isn’t going to invade Texas or Utah. Yes, there are some bottom-dwelling, opportunistic conspiracy-mongers who’ve done their best to whip up public concern. Read the rest of this entry »
‘Death and Taxes’ by David Dodge, Cover Art by Rudolph Belarski
Robert W. Merry reviews Grover Norquist’s new book
Congress would never allow sequestration to take effect, according to the media wisdom of the day, and hence Republicans would have to accept tax increases as part of the alternative fiscal bargain. That would mean the GOP would have to repudiate the famous Tax Pledge devised by Norquist and signed by nearly every congressional Republican. That, in turn, would destroy the force and power of that nettlesome Tax Pledge—and dislodge Norquist from his prominent place as Horatio at the bridge of tax policy.
[Order Grover Norquist’s book “End the IRS Before It Ends Us: How to Restore a Low Tax, High Growth, Wealthy America“, Center Street, 352 pp., $20.25 at Amazon.com]
This particular episode took place around the luncheon table of the Center for the National Interest (publisher of this website and its allied magazine), and the media hounds went after Norquist with the glee of those who know they are about to witness a political comeuppance of serious magnitude. Through it all, the imperturbable Norquist confidently and quietly held his ground—never ruffled, never riled, never lacking in magnanimity, seemingly sure of his aces. “This isn’t my first rodeo,” he said, and laid out a lucid political explanation for why his Pledge would hold, even in the face of such tectonic pressures.
The next day, the Los Angeles Times offered an analysis entitled, “Grover Norquist the has-been.” It proclaimed that “even he can’t ignore the signs that his hold is slipping.” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, after quoting Norquist’s insistence that congressional Republicans would adhere to their anti-tax heritage, even in the face of the looming sequestration decision, wrote with a smirk, “Also, the dog ate Norquist’s homework.” He added that Norquist’s confidence on the matter suggested he “had been on a long trip in a remote location.” The New York Times, in a front-page feature, suggested Norquist “finds himself in a tricky spot.”
What happened next? The sequestration deadline came and went, no grand fiscal compromise emerged, the austere spending cuts went into effect, and Norquist’s famous Pledge remained intact, as did the political standing and influence of Norquist himself. Dana Milbank never got around to revealing to his readers his own remote location whenthe dog was eating his prediction of Norquist’s political demise. Truly, Norquist is a Washington figure to be reckoned with.
Now he bundles up his anti-tax sentiments and political assessments into a sprightly volume entitled: End the IRS Before It Ends Us: How to Restore a Low Tax, High Growth, Wealthy America. It’s a book of many parts: primer on America’s tax history and growth in government; polemical expose of liberal legerdemain on the issue; policy recommendations for smaller government, strong economic growth and a streamlined tax system; and paean to the energy and efficiency of unfettered capitalism. He even provides an amusing narrative of the earnest efforts of his adversaries to obliterate his famous Pledge, all to no avail.
The reason they can’t obliterate it, writes Norquist, is that the American people are on to the ominous consequences of inexorable governmental expansion and fiscal incontinence. Currently, U.S. governmental spending—federal, state and local—amounts to 34 percent of the national economy, while taxes consume about 30 percent of annual GDP. And what’s going to happen to tax rates and the governmental share of GDP, he asks, when it comes time to pay down the $17 trillion in federal debt (nearly $8 trillion of it added on Obama’s watch) or the $123 trillion in “unfunded liabilities” accumulated through years of irresponsible government spending?
All this has generated civic angers that in turn spawned the Tea Party phenomenon of the early Obama years—the country’s first mass movement focused primarily on governmental spending. During the week of April 15, 2009, Americans gathered across the country in more than 600—perhaps as many as a thousand—anti-spending rallies with up to a million participants. As Norquist puts it, “A wall of opposition to government spending rose up.” At the next election, Republicans campaigning against government spending and Obama’s stimulus legislation captured the House by gaining sixty-three seats in that chamber; they also picked up a net gain of six Senate seats.
Two years later, though, the Tea Party movement seemed to have petered out. Republicans failed to oust Obama from the White House or to capture the four Senate seats needed for control of that chamber. What happened?
According to Norquist, the answer is simple. “The Tea Party didn’t fall down the stairs. It was pushed.” Read the rest of this entry »
The DoJ won’t press contempt charges against her for her busted attempt to plead the fifth (Here Is a Statement of Alleged Facts I Want to Introduce Into the Record/Having Done That, I Now Say I Don’t Want to Speak for the Record).
Supposedly the DoJ is still considering bringing some sort of charges against her over the Tea Party Targeting.
Sure. I’m sure Eric Holder and Barack Obama want to get right to the bottom of the conspiracy they were participants in.
DAMAGE CONTROL: Ted Cruz Under Fire for Admission that He Files Tax Return Every Year, Even Though He Opposes the IRSPosted: March 24, 2015
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Ted Cruz, having revealed that he files a tax return, and pays federal income tax to the IRS, even though in his newly-announced bid for the White house, he is actively campaigning against the IRS, finds himself in the midst of a firestorm of criticism and mockery. “Ted Cruz is a hypocrite. How can he attack the IRS, and at the same time, admit that he pays taxes?”, said a spokesman for ThinkProgress. “Any candidate that pays taxes with one hand, and attacks the agency that collects taxes and investigates citizens with the other hand, is not qualified to be president.”
Stephen Dinan reports: The White House told Congress last week it refused to dig into its computers for emails that could shed light on what kinds of private taxpayer information the IRS shares with President Obama’s top aides, assuring Congress that the IRS will address the issue — eventually.
The tax agency has already said it doesn’t have the capability to dig out the emails in question, but the White House’s chief counsel, W. Neil Eggleston, insisted in a letter last week to House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan that the IRS would try again once it finishes with the tea party-targeting scandal.
“It is my understanding that in May 2014, Commissioner Koskinen responded to this request by indicating that the IRS would be able to address new topics such as these following its completion of document productions already in progress,” Mr. Eggleston wrote in a Feb. 17 letter. “To the extent that the committee continues to have an oversight interest in this matter, I encourage you to continue working with the IRS to address those questions.”
“The IRS has been under fire for years over several scandals, including its targeting of tea party groups for politically motivated scrutiny and its illegal release of private taxpayer information…”
But IRS Commissioner John Koskinen’s letter last year didn’t say that. Instead Mr. Koskinen said the IRS was logistically incapable of performing the search because it would have required combing through 90,000 email accounts.
The White House’s stiff-arm comes even though it performed a similar kind of email search in the past after the IRS lost thousands of emails of former division chief Lois G. Lerner, a key figure in the tea party targeting.
Mr. Ryan is trying to figure out whether the laws that govern taxpayer information security are working, which is part of his committee’s jurisdiction.
“The White House’s stiff-arm comes even though it performed a similar kind of email search in the past after the IRS lost thousands of emails of former division chief Lois G. Lerner, a key figure in the tea party targeting.”
The IRS has been under fire for years over several scandals, including its targeting of tea party groups for politically motivated scrutiny and its illegal release of private taxpayer information concerning the National Organization for Marriage. The IRS insisted the disclosure was accidental and not politically motivated, but it did pay a settlement to the organization.
Some outside pressure groups argue the IRS’s improper behavior goes further, and includes disclosing private taxpayer information to the White House. The groups point to comments by a top White House economic adviser who in 2010 said Koch Industries, the company run by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, paid no corporate income taxes. Read the rest of this entry »