by Gary Galles, Mises Economics Blog
When the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified just over a century ago, there was no concern that IRS abuses would extend to 501c4 applications for nonprofit status from groups “unfriendly” to the administration in power. Such tax code proliferations were never anticipated. Careful observers of the income tax from the perspective of American ideals and history, such as Frank Chodorov, focused on how income taxation would undermine Americans’ liberty. As he put it in The Income Tax: Root of all Evil:
The American Revolution…[established] a government based on a new and untried principle, namely, that the government has no power except what the governed have granted it…in 1913, when the government was invested with the power to confiscate private property…this power…put into the hands of the American government a means of liquidating the sovereignty of the citizenry.
While Chodorov’s focus was on how the income tax would undo the American Revolution’s central protection of citizens and their property against federal violations, he also saw that enforcement of the income tax would bring evils in its train. April 15 reminds us of that fact. But those predictable evils also coincide strikingly with the IRS’ targeting of groups who object to the abuses it enabled, as if Chodorov was writing about these “new and improved” abuses six decades ago.
[T]he Sixteenth Amendment, enacted to increase the government’s revenues, has spawned another police department, another means of forcing the citizen into line.
“The imposition of the [income] tax will…necessitate a swarm of officials with inquisitorial powers…and cannot be fairly imposed¼” -REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT ADAMS, January 26, 1894.
The Internal Revenue Bureau quite sensibly takes the view that every one of us is a potential lawbreaker…it must make use of…espionage, deception, and force…
[T]he inevitable consequence…is the use of income taxation to undermine the principles of republican government and to make a mockery of our tradition of freedom.
The Internal Revenue Bureau is a self-operating inquisitorial body. It has the means of harassing, intimidating, and crushing the citizen who falls into its disfavor…Therefore, whenever the Bureau has reason to “get” somebody it has ample means at its disposal.
This is what the late Senator Schall of Minnesota had to say…“The one glaring governmental agency that constitutes a menace to the citizens is the Income Tax Bureau, which often goes outside the constitutional limitations and frequently harasses citizens by unjust exactions and by the oppressive conduct of its agents…it even dares to attack the citizens…without substantial pretext or cause¼The bureau is inquisitorial…Its forces swarm over the country…Agents, spies and snoopers annoy and plague the citizens…[it] permits and promotes, if it does not direct, a species of blackmail against the American citizen.”
There have been cases…where citizens who have offended the party in power were suddenly visited by agents of the Bureau and subjected to interrogation and examination. Of course…there is no proof that the citizens’ views prompted these special investigations. It cannot be proved that the purpose was to silence opposition. But the practice is so well known that men…have scrupulously avoided involvement in movements critical of the Administration, even though privately they are in sympathy with such movements.
[I]f individuals persist in trying to circumvent the political establishment…or if they preach doctrines inimical to the interest of the ruling group, then…freedom of thought must be suppressed.
Despite all the stonewalling, denials and rhetorical dancing offered by the Obama Administration, it is clear that the IRS employed abusive and intimidating tactics against “Tea Party” and other groups unfriendly to their employer’s agenda. And it is hardly a surprise that the IRS’ power has been used yet again on behalf of big government. It is just one more mechanism by which the power of the income tax has, in Frank Chodorov’s words “reduced the American citizen to a status of subject.”
About the Author
Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. He is the author of The Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read.