Taxes

Starving the Hand that Feeds Them

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Federal News Radio reports that more than a half million federal employees owe some $3.59 billion in federal income taxes.  The biggest scofflaws are the Post Office (in raw numbers) and the Government Printing Office (by percentage).  The list also includes the Executive Office of the President (where 58 employees owe $320,000), and 1,000 staffers on Capitol Hill.

I was surprised to learn that except for the IRS, the federal government does not consider failure to pay federal taxes a firing offense.  Surprised, that is, until I remembered that when you're a federal employee, virtually nothing is actually a firing offense.

In the past, the report has included data from the IRS the percentage of tax cheats in the general population, but the IRS apparently stopped making that information available a couple of years ago.

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  1. While I think not paying taxes (if you get any benefit back out of them) isn’t great overall, I am at least sympathetic to people who avoid paying taxes.

    But federal employees? That’s pretty low.

  2. I always ask the following question to people who think taxes are good:

    “If there was some sort of lottery in which the winner did not have to pay their taxes, and you won, would you still pay?”

    They always say “no” unless they are mendacious twits. And then I say “so why should anybody have to pay if you wouldn’t?”

    Answers are varied and always funny.

  3. They don’t implement withholding or garnishment in the federal payroll office? That must be nice.

  4. I guess Charlie Rangel is just one of many.

  5. I like that Epi. I may have to use that, if I can fit it into conversation. The problem is, they are often talking about taxes first, or libertarianism, or politics in general.

    I imagine most smart pro-tax people would realize this and then say that they still would.

  6. ld, if they say they would still pay, you just stare them down and say “you’re lying.” Because they are. Only very rich people would ever do that. Somebody pulling down $60,000/year that would suddenly be able to keep $15-20,000 would be unable to resist keeping it.

  7. I don’t understand why people who are paid with tax money have to pay taxes.

    Why not just give the federal employees less of the tax money, then they won’t have to give any back.

  8. Vaguely related topic if you squint hard enough: I’ve always thought that no one who receives a government check should be allowed to vote. It’s a clear conflict of interest. This includes not just Federal employees, but pubic school teachers, police, welfare recipients, university students who get government aid, etc.

  9. I know I wouldn’t be able to. Sadly, a large majority of the people I know that are pro-tax are, in fact, at least well off. A lot of doctors and the like.

  10. I’m with Kwais. Reduce their salaries and cut out both the paperwork and the risk. Better yet, fire 2/3 of them, then slice the salaries. Then we will also have the right number of employees for the job being paid what the job is worth.

  11. ld, even when they’re well off you can say things like “you’d still send in the taxes even though you could pay your mortgage off faster?” or “you’d still send in the taxes even though much of it would go to the military, instead of just giving directly to a charity of your choice?”

    Trust me, people who say they would send it in are so obviously lying that they tend to back off it, especially once you point certain things out to them.

  12. Wow, imagine that! What am I not suprised?

    Jiff
    http://www.anonymize.us.tc

  13. For certain important people in the private sector, it’s the same story. Bill O’Reilly is still on the air despite millions paid out to settle his sexuual harassment lawsuit.

  14. I think the last one would work. I try to use that in arguments anyway, as to why its better to give privately than to use taxes.

    I think that alot of them would donate a similar portion of their money as they do now+taxes, but don’t trust others to do it as well.

    It’s hard to argue with that, if people do not buy the idea that forcing people to give up their money isn’t okay to begin with. Any tactics for that one?

  15. “If there was some sort of lottery in which the winner did not have to pay their taxes, and you won, would you still pay?”

    Yes I would. I would prefer to pay less taxes — but that isn’t the question you are asking.

    Because if my house is burning down I want someone to come and put out the fire. And I do want the police to show up when there are disturbances around my home. And I want to have a functioning court system where an objective 3rd party will mediate disputes that arise from my contracts with other private entities. And I want there to be well clean and safe public parks where my kids can play and socialize with other kids.

    Yes I would pay my taxes because I benefit from them and it’s more affordable if the pool of people paying into the system is larger rather than smaller.

    That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to pay less, and that I wouldn’t want to limit the scope of what the government does. Just that I wouldn’t want to live in a world where there are no taxes and I have to contract out with a private company for everything.

    To me, it isn’t the taxes that are the most bothersome, but all the other fees. Having to pay for city stickers, having to pay for license plates, having to pay extra fees to use public services, etc.

    Also the one tax I hate HATE HATE with a passion is the property tax. Property taxes should be abolished. I don’t understand how someone can keep taxing me on something I own or the concept of taxing someone’s shelter.

  16. classwarrior

    How exactly does your 4:51pm comment relate to this post?

  17. Because if my house is burning down I want someone to come and put out the fire.

    You won the lottery. Everyone else still has to pay their taxes, so you will have all these services.

    Would you still pay?

  18. I was surprised to learn that except for the IRS, the federal government does not consider failure to pay federal taxes a firing offense.

    Could an IRS employee just perform an audit on him or herself, and declare that they have enough legitimate deductions to not have any taxable income?

    I don’t understand why people who are paid with tax money have to pay taxes.

    Why not just give the federal employees less of the tax money, then they won’t have to give any back.

    Well, the amount of income tax that people are charged is based on the person’s total taxable income. This would include not only their salary from their current day job; but from any other part-time jobs, jobs held for part of the year, interest on bank accounts or securities, etc.

    Also there are the questions of filing status; and deductions, exemptions, and credits which they can’t always know at the time of writing the check. It’s easier to work that stuff out at the time of filing.

    Generally, I’d be in favor of simplifying the tax code – having fewer deductions, exemptions, and credits; but lower tax rates. Also, I’d base it on individual income rather than household income.

  19. I also want to clarify–just in case it is not clear–that my question is not “you won $5 million and also don’t have to pay taxes”, it is that the prize for winning the lottery is just not having to pay taxes. You get no money from it.

  20. kwais | September 15, 2008, 4:35pm | #
    I don’t understand why people who are paid with tax money have to pay taxes.
    Why not just give the federal employees less of the tax money, then they won’t have to give any back.

    Since the tax rates are progressive the government gets to push the pain-in-the-ass accounting onto the employee.

  21. Why not just give the federal employees less of the tax money, then they won’t have to give any back.

    That would explode the procedure-loving brains of IRS agents. They need- need– to have a form for everything. I’m a tax accountant & work with them all the time. The best strategy is to make no sudden movements and use language a toddler would understand.

    Epi’s question is a good one. Everyone is trying to pay less taxes, without exception. Those who would raise the taxes of others are hypocrites. No two ways to slice it.

  22. Everyone is trying to pay less taxes, without exception

    Yes, yes, yes, thank you. This is why if anyone answers my question with “I will still pay taxes” I just hit them with a look of utter skepticism until they admit they are lying. I’ve not yet had one person fail to finally admit that they would keep the money.

  23. I don’t understand why people who are paid with tax money have to pay taxes.

    If you factor in the time they spend fucking off, like some do here on reason, they aren’t.

    some even spend that time agitating for tax hikes.

  24. This is why if anyone answers my question with “I will still pay taxes” I just hit them with a look of utter skepticism until they admit they are lying.

    I’d love to see you ask that of some Canadians I know (including several family members of mine!). They are oddly complacent in their 40% tax bracket. The general idea is, well, we’re doing ok, so why not let the gov’t ‘help’ those less fortunate? Statism is practically a religion in some circles up there. Drives me nuts.

  25. I always ask the following question to people who think taxes are good:

    “If there was some sort of lottery in which the winner did not have to pay their taxes, and you won, would you still pay?”

    They always say “no” unless they are mendacious twits. And then I say “so why should anybody have to pay if you wouldn’t?”

    I don’t think the question proves what you think it proves.

    Essentially you are asking “if you could get something for nothing would you take it?”

    But what does that prove? That doesn’t speak to the whether or not people believe in the necessity of taxes.

    a better question would be “if you could opt out of taxation and then no longer be afforded any goods or services that those taxes pay for — would you?” that would speak a little more to whether or not someone really thinks taxes are good/necessary.

    And by “taxes are good” I imagine most people believe that they are a necessary evil.

    The follow up isn’t even relevant: “So why should anyone else have to pay taxes” (The sarcastic answer would be cuz they didnt win the lottery.) If no one had to pay, then not paying isn’t much of a prize is it?

  26. Essentially you are asking “if you could get something for nothing would you take it?”

    No, essentially I am asking “even though you want people taxed to pay for various social projects, you would opt to not pay yourself if given the opportunity.” My point is that people want the less fortunate to be helped; they just don’t want to pay for it. They want everyone else to pay for it.

    Statism is practically a religion in some circles up there. Drives me nuts.

    It’s not just up there. I have discussions like this with my aunt and uncle all the time. They were honest enough to admit they would keep the money.

  27. It’s not just up there.

    True, but there’s something different in the tone in which (some) Canadians tend to discuss this kind of thing: as though an all-providing gov’t were something totally natural; a foregone conclusion. Despite so much evidence to the contrary, so many Canadians are very trusting of gov’t, and are much less open to the idea of the private sector taking over some of those functions.

    I get the sense that most Americans seem to have a healthier skepticism when it comes to gov’t actually delivering, which is somewhat comforting.

  28. I have heard that before from other people, but it is interesting to have it confirmed by a Canadian.

    We did a band exchange in high school with a school in Ottawa. The guy that stayed with me, and his friends, were such total maniacs (in a good, fun way) that for a while I thought that’s what most Canadians were like. On their way home from the US, they pulled over the bus for a rest stop and duck taped their band teacher to a telephone pole and wrote on his face with lipstick. They then photographed it and these pictures were displayed in the lobby of the school when we arrived in Canada. As our bus pulled in, they tore a stop sign out of the ground and ran along with the bus to get my attention. Then they saw a cop, threw down the sign, and ran, and I had to wait a little extra because they wanted the cop to be gone before they came back.

    We had fun.

  29. A band geek, eh? What instrument? I played clarinet, but was a choir geek at heart.

    My friends and I did shit like that, but I always thought cool city kids (Ottawa counts, by Canadian standards) were way too busy having sex, doing drugs, etc. (See: Degrassi Jr. High.)

  30. Epi, it’s better to get out of the hypothetical. When I talk to people who are pro-taxes, or who say they would pay more in taxes, I tell them to put their money where their mouth is.

    I inform them that they can right now send a voluntary check to the US Treasury and the Treasury will cash it. I will wait for them to write that check so they can prove they are not a hypocrite.

    I’ve yet to see one person do it.

  31. A band geek, eh? What instrument? I played clarinet, but was a choir geek at heart.

    Trombone and bass guitar. Some trumpet too, but we had plenty of those. I joined mostly to be in the jazz ensemble.

    My friends and I did shit like that, but I always thought cool city kids (Ottawa counts, by Canadian standards) were way too busy having sex, doing drugs, etc. (See: Degrassi Jr. High.)

    Oh, they were. I said it was fun, didn’t I? 😉

    I inform them that they can right now send a voluntary check to the US Treasury and the Treasury will cash it. I will wait for them to write that check so they can prove they are not a hypocrite.

    That’s damn good too, JB. I may borrow that.

  32. jb, is that true? If so, that’s awesome.

  33. Oh, they were.

    So that explains the little shaggy quadropeds that can be seen running around the Ottawa-Hull greater metropolitan area.

    I joined mostly to be in the jazz ensemble.

    That, and the cute guy I was cruising. All those trips, long bus rides, etc. provided lots of time for various naughtiness. Our volleyball team would travel with the boys’ team, too, but the band guys were cooler & less obnoxious.

  34. So that explains the little shaggy quadropeds that can be seen running around the Ottawa-Hull greater metropolitan area.

    Shaggy?!?

  35. “They always say “no” unless they are mendacious twits. And then I say “so why should anybody have to pay if you wouldn’t?”

    Are you fucking serious? You must have only told this joke to Libertarians because the false analogy is blatantly obvious.

    They should say no because THEY won the Lottery. Do you get it? If you win something that allows you to be exempt from something, it doesn’t logically follow that you should believe everyone should be exempt because THEY didn’t win.

    Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been a lottery.

    A person could think that taxes are a pain in the ass, and still feel that they are necessary. If they win an exemption, then that’s banishing a rather small portion of the overall amount of taxes collected.

    You see guys, this is what happens when you routinely practices confirmation bias.

  36. I recently asked at a town board meeting if anyone there thought their property taxes were too low. No one raised their hand. I further said if anyone’s taxes were too low they could pay mine, since I thought mine were outrageous. All taxes are local (and loco).

  37. You don’t get it. A person doesn’t have to volunteer to pay more taxes to feel that taxes, in general, are necessary.

  38. Famous Mortimer-

    When somebody else is on the hook, lots of people “feel” that taxes are necessary. If a rational, reasoned human being actually considers the matter, he recognizes and understands that taxation is not a pre-requisite to a flourishing, peaceful and prosperous society.

  39. Confrimation bias-

    Young boy is told that taxes are necessary. Life would be utterly dreadful without them. Young boy’s father is a police officer. Young boy is told by his mother that taxes are necessary and that wihtout them, we would be living in squalor. Young boy’s mothre is a public scholl teacher.

    Young boy’s uncle tells him that F…n taxes are necessary to make sure that the rich don’t screw us. Young boy’s uncle is a dues paying union man.

    Young boy goes to a public school. All of his teachers, except the kooky golf coach who also served as the debate team coach and advisor, told young boy tht taxes are not only necessary, but good.

    Young boy graduates from high school and attends a college where his political science professors tell him that not only are taxes necessary, they are awesome. YOung boy graduates from college.

    Young boy meets libertarians who challenge his worldview. He tells liertarians that taxes are necessary. And so it goes…

  40. Shaggy?!?

    Scooby?!?

  41. “When somebody else is on the hook, lots of people “feel” that taxes are necessary.”

    No, lots of people feel that they are necessary, period, as can be seen by the number of people who vote for candidates who do not promote the type of agrarian Republic that you desire. Now, unless you believe that all of those people, both Democrat, and Republican aren’t having to pay taxes, then your assertion makes little sense.

    “If a rational, reasoned human being actually considers the matter, he recognizes and understands that taxation is not a pre-requisite to a flourishing, peaceful and prosperous society.”

    Well, unsurprisingly this person would be deemed “rational” and “reasoned” because they agree with YOUR philosophy of government. How convenient.

    More importantly, YOUR philosophy of government has no meaningful precedent, and the predictions of it providing all of the above are just that, predictions. It’s an extremist philosophy, and nothing more than yet another proposed, social experiment.

    Far too often, Libertarians seem to perpetrate the stale cliche of IT geeks who possess a sociopathic understanding of human nature.

    You’re like a bunch of young Nathaniel Branden’s.

    No, if you’ll excuse me, I would much rather get back to shitting all over that terrible analogy.

  42. Episiarch, you should ask people who favor traffic laws whether they would still stop at stop signs and red lights if they won a lottery permitting them not to do so. If they say they wouldn’t, they’re lying; if they say they would, ask them how they can still favor traffic laws.

    Expose their hypocrisy!

  43. Reverse the would and wouldn’t in that last post.

  44. Cunnivor,
    Then it would be like being in a third world country.

    And yes, most of us would still stop out of prudence.

    Where none would pay taxes.

    So Epsiarchs point is valid, and your snark is not.

    Most people that think there should be taxes. Think is should be so because they think everyone else is selfish, and wouldn’t give to charity, so they need the power of the state to force other people to be as charitable as they themselves are.

  45. Federal employees do not pay taxes, I am surprised you are falling for this trivial accounting trick.

  46. I’ve always thought that no one who receives a government check should be allowed to vote.

    Nice to see someone else has the same idea as me.

    I’d be willing to let them vote if they forfeited the right to unionize.

  47. Mortimer, a big point is that many of these people (maybe you as well, I don’t know) claim that government is actually effective and they see the necessity in paying taxes. I tell them: ok, back up those words with deeds. If you really think government is so effective and necessary, then you should be willing to send them money over and above your tax burden.

    Not one of them puts up.

  48. Why? Your assertion doesn’t make any sense. No matter how effective I think the government is at anything (and that hasn’t even been discussed), it doesn’t logically follow that I should have to increase the amount that I already pay.

    Believing that some taxation is necessary doesn’t mean that taxation should be considered a bottomless well from which to pluck from.

    Anyway, the increase of single individual’s tax burden won’t do much to address the issue.

    “Cunnivor,
    Then it would be like being in a third world country. And yes, most of us would still stop out of prudence. Where none would pay taxes.”

    That’s an incredible prediction. Are Libertarians clairvoyant now? More importantly, the original analogy involved a lottery winning, not a pay whatever you like tax proposal.

    If we eliminated taxes it would be like living in a third world country. See? I can play that game too.

    Again, it’s these either/or fallacies that rear the ugly head far too often around here, and encourage the notion of the intellectually deficient Conservative.

    You do it to yourself.

  49. “I’ve always thought that no one who receives a government check should be allowed to vote.”

    Of course you do. Only Libertarians should be allowed to vote.

    Over the past week I’ve witnessed Libertarians support the idea that the state has the right to control someone’s reproductive rights while they’re on probation. I’ve witnessed Libertarians qualify the practice of slavery, and now I’ve witnessed them propose that those who receive government support should not be allowed to vote.

    Why don’t we just throw anyone who doesn’t identify themselves as a Libertarian into an internment camp while we’re at it. Better yet, why don’t we just provide them as free labor to all corporate enterprises?

    What a fucking scary group of individuals.

  50. Mortimer, so you are saying you won’t put your money where your mouth is because it’s a drop in the bucket? Way to take a stand on principle!

    Obviously, even you, aren’t too keen on taxes, which was the whole point.

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