The April Game, by Diogenes, Chicago: Playboy, 1973, 221 pp., $1.25 (paper)
Things never seem to be what they purport to be these days. More and more the tired old cries of conspiracy—Kennedy, CIA, FBI, Trilateral Commission, Jimmy Carter—are turning out to be true. There are wheels within wheels within wheels, we find. And the realization comes as a shock.
This was the uneasy feeling I had recently upon finishing The April Game, a book by an undisclosed author who chose to call himself Diogenes.
Basically, the book purports to be an inside look at the workings of the IRS (Diogenes is asserted to be a government auditor "with many years experience"), as well as a guide on how to circumvent the giant bureaucracy. It further hints that it reveals information the IRS would prefer to be kept secret—that's why the author supposedly "felt it politic to write this book under a pseudonym," according to the jacket blurb.
Ah, an exposure of some of those wheels within wheels. A glint of light, piercing to the innards of the IRS—that enemy of all citizens. Here was someone on our side, I thought.
But it was not to be. Upon reading the book, a strange realization began to dawn: the author is really not at all hostile to extreme government taxation or its attendant bureaucracy. Listen to this: "There has never been a government that could operate without money or its equivalent in goods and work.…Taxation…is absolutely inevitable.…The bigger and more complex a nation gets, the bigger each citizen's tax bite gets. There is no known way around this law."
Oh sure, he made his obeisances, casting off remarks like: "The IRS is too big and too powerful for its own good." It has "more…power over more people than any other government agency in the United States.…We ought to build checks and balances into the system so as to reduce the power."
But then, often on the same pages, Diogenes approvingly writes things like: "In defense of my esteemed employer I must say that I don't believe the power is abused often.…Although the Internal Revenue Service is probably the world's most powerful police agency, the fact is that it often shrinks from using its power aggressively. It makes full use of its virtually unrestricted license to spy on people. But when it catches them doing wrong it often treats them with a gentleness that has amazed many."
Well, it may have "amazed many," but this line is palpably untrue. The IRS has, financially, totally broken people and hounded them to their death. It continues to do so today. Any number of "target" individuals can testify to that.
In addition, the suggestions as to how to cope with an IRS audit are dangerously incorrect: the advice given will generally help to streamline an IRS investigation into your finances.
"What is it with this guy?" I found myself asking. There are just too many contradictions: The IRS is too powerful, but it never uses that power, being basically "a softhearted Gestapo." The tax laws are too complex, but in a nation like ours we need complex tax laws. Lots and lots of taxpayers get away with "cheating," but the IRS is so all-powerful that anyone who crosses it can expect to be caught, sooner or later.
Then he goes on to talk about tax evasion, about how "this whole mad system of taxation by self-assessment" and "voluntary compliance" is unfair, because people are encouraged to "cheat." "Why not?" he seems to say: "Nearly all American taxpayers cheat, at least to a minor extent. I don't like the idea of cheating, and in fact it is my job to catch cheats. At the same time, I am compelled to recognize that the system of taxation by confessions encourages cheating, and until a fairer and more sensible revenue-raising idea is invented, I cannot find it in my heart to blame a middle-income taxpayer whose desperate struggle for survival leads him to break the rules."
Wow! It actually sounds like this functionary of the most dangerous and powerful bureaucracy in the country is sanctioning "cheating"! I couldn't believe my eyes.
And then—flash!—it all came together. Atlas Shrugged, Dr. Ferris talking to Hank Rearden:
"Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them broken…There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many thinks to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted—and you create a nation of law-breakers—and then you cash in on guilt."
I think that, at the very least, the IRS knew of "Diogenes" and sanctioned—possibly even commissioned—this book. After all, the author tells us he used a pen name to hide from his dangerous employers, then goes on to explain that the tax returns of IRS auditors such as himself are scrutinized, each year, with special care. And he wants us to believe the all-powerful IRS couldn't track down those extra royalties and find him out? Come now…
The Playboy business/publishing empire has had problems with the government in the past. They have been on at least one "enemies" list, and from all reports, the IRS did set out in the early seventies to "get" them. It's interesting to speculate on another conspiracy: that this book—published by Playboy Press—might be part of a deal made to save the Playboy people from further harassment and investigation. The timing is about right, and the IRS would certainly want such a book to gain a veneer of respectability—a look of being on "our side"—while giving the IRS the human face it so craves.
You might want to read the book (don't buy it) as an outline of the history, methods, and powers of the IRS from an "inside" perspective.
But don't take it seriously. It is an attempt to inspire guilt, along with some measure of fear. And as far as the IRS is concerned, it's just what the doctor ordered.
Tim Condon has a B.S. in journalism and a J.D. from the University of Florida. He is coauthor of the 1978 Income Tax Guide.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The April Game".