Faster, Please!

The Mother of Scandals Is Always Pregnant

I have to disagree with Victor. The mother of all scandals is the taxman.

Benghazi is an event, a terrible event, but the systematic use of the IRS as an instrument of oppression, the omnipresent long arm of the state-to-be, is even worse. It’s a crucial instrument for redistributing wealth, for intimidating critics, and for preventing political opponents from amassing the wherewithal to challenge the would-be tyrants.

Moreover, it serves as cover for collecting sensitive information about us. Sure, the NSA megadata collection is scary, but the IRS is right there, not only putting the Tea Party in purgatory but even grabbing medical records that include very private matters, as emerges in a California law suit.

The suit alleges that IRS agents seized tens of millions of medical records in the course of a search in connection with an investigation of a single person’s failure to pay taxes to the IRS’s full satisfaction:

“These medical records contained intimate and private information of more than 10,000,000 Americans, information that by its nature includes information about treatment for any kind of medical concern, including psychological counseling, gynecological counseling, sexual or drug treatment, and a wide range of medical matters covering the most intimate and private of concerns,” the complaint reads.

That sort of information can be quite damaging if it shows up on your local news show, and it stretches one’s imagination to figure out what would justify such a massive data grab in a matter concerning a lone taxpayer. Time will tell, but it seems of a piece with the pell-mell rush to get all possible information about all of us, and with ensuring that the regime’s political opponents won’t be able to fund electoral campaigns.

Obviously, when we hear “IRS” in the same paragraph as “medical records,” we are reminded that the IRS will play a lead role in the enforcement of Obamacare. The more we look at the IRS scandal, the more worrisome it becomes.

If you want to see where an unrestrained tax collector can bring a modern society, have a look at Italy, where most citizens understandably jump through hoops to reduce their tax burden. When I was a correspondent in Rome some forty years ago, a leading economist calculated that the marginal tax rate was actually 123%. You had to find a way to avoid paying all those taxes.

The last Italian government, headed by an economics professor named Mario Monti, constantly blamed non-payment of taxes for many of the country’s economic ailments. It unleashed the Treasury police to track down the most egregious cases, a practice that is deadly for a lot of high-end tourism (a big source of revenue, lest we forget). Elegantly dressed officials of the Guardia di Finanza now swoop into the country’s most elegant resorts, interrogating restauranteurs, retail shop owners, spa managers, and tourists who rent or own yachts this time of year. They’re looking for cash transactions that might not be declared in full, and they’re often very aggressive. It’s now routine for them to board yachts and start asking questions of the passengers:

“Is this your boat?”

“How much did it cost? How did you pay for it?”

“To whom did you pay it?”

And so forth. Predictably, the yachts that usually frequent places like Capri, Sardegna’s Emerald Coast, and the Amalfi-Positano stretch, with its many marvelous restaurants with sea access, have gone elsewhere, like Croatia.

The moralists in Italy have been very tough on tax evaders, starting with their bete noire Silvio Berlusconi, who has recently been convicted of tax evasion and faces (theoretically, mind you) several years of imprisonment and (more realistically) banishment from public office. One thoughtful wag commented that it seemed odd to bring the full weight of the state on the country’s leading tax payer, but after a long court case and two appeals, and even though the sentence may bring down the delicate coalition government, no one is challenging the legitimacy of the courts’ decisions.

A voice of reason recently emerged from a most surprising throat just a few days before the Berlusconi sentence was issued:  Stefano Fassina, the vice minister for the economy, permitted himself — appropriately enough, at a conference on the underground economy — the observations that “taxes are unsustainably high,” and “people avoid taxes in order to survive.”  Fassina is a man of the Left, coming from the “communist” wing of the Democratic Party, so it was a real man-bites-dog story. He went on to insist that this was not a moral question but a very real survival issue, and he mused that many tax evaders would happily pay their debts to the state if taxes were lower.

The Italians say: “When the state steals, it turns us all into thieves.” When the taxman is corrupt, it corrupts us all.

And that is why the IRS scandal is truly the pregnant mother of them all, giving birth to corrupt institutions and corrupt citizens at an alarming and depressing rate. We can speedily recover from the disgusting Benghazi affair by changing leaders. But it will take a full-scale purge to restore the tax collector to virtue.

Ted Cruz has the right idea: abolish the IRS and reform the tax code so that anyone can easily calculate how much he owes, and see that it is fair.

That’s no small task. As Mark Levin will tell you, it might even require a new Constitutional Convention.