THE APRIL GAME. By Diogenes, Chicago: Playboy Press, 1974, 221 pp., $1.25 (pb).
"April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead earth, stirring memories and desires, mingling dull roots with spring rain."
Unlike T.S. Elliot, I've never been choked up about the cruelty of mingling dull roots with spring rain. But I have and still do grievously suffer every April as stirring memories of my gross income before withholding surge in my manly bosom, while passionate desires of joining a taxpayers' revolt ascend to a frustrated climax. Yes, April's the cruelest month; and the knowledge that I'm not alone in my misery instead of giving me comfort brings expletives to my lips.
Why do I get more white hair in April? It's pure, undiluted fear, compounded by the ego-shattering suspicion that either my intelligence has inexplicably dropped to a moron's level or English has suddenly become the same foreign language I struggled to learn in my first months in America. This year, for instance, I decided to file my own income-tax return—but gave up the effort when reading a pornographic little booklet "New York Income State Tax Forms and Instructions for Filing," which was filled with sentences such as:
The return for the period before the change of residence must include all items of income, gain, loss or deduction accrued to the taxpayer up to the time of his change of residence, including any amounts not otherwise includable in the return because of an election to report income on an installment basis. Stated another way, the return for the period prior to the change of residence must be made on the accrual basis whether or not that is the taxpayer's established method of reporting. However, in the case of a taxpayer changing from nonresident to resident status, these accruals need not be made with respect to items derived from or connected with New York.
Perfectly clear, isn't it?
So, it was with enormous relief that I learned from The April Game, written by Diogenes (a tax man who uses the pseudonym in self-protection), that no one fully understands tax literature: "there is no one man or woman in IRS who knows the whole tax law," says the dear man, adding that "you could probably pick any ten of us at random and the entire group would score less than 100 percent on a test dealing with the law's finer points."
What is particularly irritating in The April Game is the author's attitude to "taxpayers' cheating." Everybody cheats, he says, and he gives many examples—some of which are hilariously funny, others pathetic, and a few positively brilliant.
As a good IRS employee, who's so fond of IRS itself that he confesses that "it would be nearly impossible to find a more amiable employer," Diogenes has been brainwashed into believing that government has either by Divine or Congressional law an inalienable right and a priori claim to the fruits of your labor. Diogenes' implicit premise is this: since what you earn—or a good portion of it, anyway—doesn't belong to you, you are cheating the government of its rightful share whenever you succeed in avoiding or (perish the thought) evading your tax burden.
With such a premise, it's not surprising that Mr. Diogenes' attitude to "cheating" betrays a nauseating mixture of self-righteous moral indignation, contempt for people, and profound cynicism about human nature. Diogenes knows that voluntary taxation is a fraud and a sham: he admits that no one pays taxes voluntarily and that no one would pay a cent (particularly today) unless coerced to do so. And yet, he moans about the fact that people "cheat." Like Dr. Stadler (of Atlas Shrugged), Diogenes' plea is: what can you do when you deal with people?
Let's hope that Mr. Diogenes, who's a decent man way down (way down deep), will learn one of these days that morality is a code of values accepted by choice—and that when people aren't given any choice, there is no morality. And further, if you aren't offered any choice, but want to survive, you'd be well advised to lie your head off. But I can just imagine what Diogenes' reply would be: "Oh well, that's theory. In practice, how would a government obtain revenues without taxation?" I wonder if he would grasp a reply of the type: "Ever heard of the old-fashioned or radical idea of freely exchanging value for value, of paying for goods and services as you want them when you want them?"
TAXATION IS THEFT
Taxation rests on the notion that the use of force for some alleged good end is moral, and that your life (from January to May of each year) doesn't belong to you but to government. It's the old game of fear and guilt. Fear if you don't pay, and fear if you do: you might have to pay more. Guilt if you "cheat" and, if you don't, the gnawing suspicion of being the only sucker in town.
Do I fear the IRS? Yes, just as I fear being run over by a truck. I feel fear because, though I pay what the taxman says, the IRS can still open my mail, tap my phone, seize my bank account, ransack my office and padlock it—and there isn't anything I can do about it, the Constitution notwithstanding. But at least, I've never felt guilty, nor have I ever felt to be a sucker. Anyone who experiences either, deserves it.
The April Game is a game between you and an armed mugger—with a mugger who becomes indignant and accuses you of cheating if, after his having taken your wallet, you don't run after him to say that he's forgotten to take the change that's still in your pockets. Obviously, this is not a book to read for its moral philosophy or political economic theories. But it's a book that can give you valuable insights into what makes the revenuers tick—and how best to deal with them when you must do so. Two chapters in particular are worth careful reading. "How to be Audited and Come Out Alive" tells you what it's like to go through an audit—from the point of view of the IRS agent who, after all, is human too, and has weaknesses you can exploit. The audit process is in fact a bargaining situation, and Diogenes candidly outlines winning—and losing—taxpayer approaches to bargaining. "The Middle-Income Taxpayer's Cheating Guide" reviews some of the more common methods of "cheating" the IRS, pointing out which ones are hardest for IRS to discover, and why. Despite Diogenes' basic loyalty to the system, he provides valuable data between the lines, for those seeking to preserve more of their income from confiscation. Diogenes also tells you how to use secret bank accounts, describes IRS investigatory practices and gestapo tactics, and explains the IRS's use of paid informers.
There's only one problem with all this useful information: try and find it! Although the hardcover edition was published in 1973 and the paperback in 1974, both editions are already "out of print" according to the publisher, and although practically sold out, are apparently not going to be reprinted. Could it be that a certain government agency has passed the word that this book is a no-no?
Eugene Guccione is president of Mountain States Lime, Inc. and editor of Mining Engineering, the journal of the Society of Mining Engineers. He is also a director of the Committee for Monetary Research and Education.