Thank You, IRS

Poor IRS, the institution no one loves. Well, I am about to change that. IRS, thank you. Yes, thank you for being so colossally stupid that you let yourselves be caught red-handed doing what you have done surreptitiously for decades.

Not that we have not known about the IRS’s shenanigans for all these many years. It’s just that it seemed the stuff of intrigue–dark and sinister goings-on at some mysterious level of governance unvisited by we denizens of the non-political world. Had it not been for Nixon, we probably would not have noticed at all.

The IRS has never been apolitical. Since Roosevelt, powerful people have used the IRS to intimidate and harass their political opponents. Neither conservatives nor liberals are strangers to using the IRS inappropriately–or illegally. A President who openly sicced the IRS on his/her enemies would be ousted in a heartbeat. Therein lies the problem.

Barack Obama may not have directly ordered the IRS to pick on conservatives and libertarians, but the tenor of his administration offers no buffer to this kind of abuse. His core mentality is that no one knows better than him and no one had better slow him down. His willingness to use government to accomplish his ends borders on the sociopathic.


Those ends grow clearer by the day: more government, bigger government, more intrusive government–no matter what. Obama’s agenda is progressivism* taken to its logical conclusion, and that does not bode well for anyone, least of all the growing list of people who are supposed to benefit from this “noble” experiment. It’s hard to help the poor after one has destroyed everyone else’s incentive to produce anything.

The danger with Obama is that he really believes in the efficacy of government to right every perceived wrong and is seemingly incapable of grasping its limits. In his mind, this justifies most any tactic to git ‘er done. Where some would say that the end justifies the means, Obama simply does not appear to believe that there is such a thing as questionable means.

At least the President has retained enough of a grip on reality to know that some people do think there are limits to the methods by which one achieves his/her political goals. Thus he feigns outrage at actions that he indirectly endorses in speeches constantly. Conservatives and libertarians are the “enemy” in the President’s mind, an attitude not particularly new in American politics. The difference with the current President is that this is not just a political tactic. He seems to honestly believe that opponents to his agenda should not exist, that he should not have to offer any defense whatsoever to anyone at all for anything.

Obama is more than a bad President. The blood of a tyrant courses through his veins. He is appalled that anyone would have the audacity to object to anything he sees fit to do to mold his country (yes, I chose that word deliberately) into a socialist heaven. Socialism always dies, but not before lashing out at its victims viciously–usually the poor. They are the ones standing closest.

The United States “works” to the degree that it adheres to its founding principle–government serves to protect the rights of the individual. “Works” to a progressive means making it easy for government to do more and more. The difference is profound. The former ensures that individuals are not subject to the whims of their leaders by making it difficult for the government to do anything. The latter assumes disagreement to be an impediment to making things better through the power of government.

It is easy to pick on the President. After all, he embodies everything progressives love and libertarians hate. However, it would be a mistake to think that absent Barack Obama everything would be just hunky-dory. He is merely a lighthouse on a rocky island of bad ideas.

The jagged shoal of this mentality is that somehow society, this tangled collection of countless people interacting in countless ways, has a will comparable to an individual’s will. The idea, often associated with Rousseau, but having in reality a much longer intellectual lineage, is that governance is primarily an issue of finding out what that “general will” is and how it should be administered. In other words, what really matters is not what I want, think, or believe, but how my life supports society in general. The most audacious proponents of this idea suggest that in fact I cannot be happy or free otherwise. “Freedom” in this context means subjecting myself to the needs of society rather than asserting my individual will.

Even if the idea itself were not repugnant, its implementation would be. Thoughts are the province of the individual. Groups of people may share similar thoughts, but no collection of people actually has a thought. It is forgivable for convenience’ sake to speak as if groups do think, as when we say, “The family thinks not resuscitating Grandmother is the right thing to do.”

It is good to remember that we are speaking figuratively in such cases. The “family’s” thoughts on the matter may mean that everyone agrees precisely or that a strong-willed niece has bullied everyone into saying so. There is no family mind residing in a family brain and expressed through a family voice. There is only some commonly accepted definition of what individuals within that family want.

Translated to the context of government, this means that there is no such thing as what is “good for society.” There is only what is good for individuals within that society. We may speak of well or poorly functioning societies out of convenience, but in the final analysis, it is the individuals within who prosper or suffer.

The fact that there is no “general will” around which to build a government does not keep people like Barack Obama from claiming that there is, that they understand it, and that they should therefore should be assigned the task of implementing it. The result is never the betterment of individuals as a whole, but the realization of his individual vision. And for it to work, people who object to being subjugated to this vision must be silenced. Individualists openly claiming their lives for themselves may get other people started claiming the same thing.

Fortunately, we have not yet reached the point where objectors are routinely spirited away in the middle of the night. We have, though, reached the point where it is obvious that disagreement from willful individuals is not to be tolerated. “Reject the voices…” has become more than a suggestion that the opposing side is mistaken; it has become a thinly-disguised call to shut them up.

And what better way to shut people up than the IRS. An audit, whether it uncovers anything untoward or not, consumes enormous amounts of time and is always nerve-wracking because it is nearly impossible to discern what the real rules are. A tax code as complicated as ours practically begs bureaucrats with a grudge to abuse it. They need not have a direct order from the President; only a general understanding of who the “enemy” is.

Thankfully, at least a few Democrats are outraged over the real issue–that the IRS was used to bully opponents of the Administration. As for the rest, they are content to wallow in the worst excuse of all–that Republicans do it too. As it comes to light just how many of them were complicit in siccing the IRS on their opponents, we may see some sheepish legislators soon.

The same IRS that harasses conservatives can harass liberals too. As in romance, the person who cheats with you will likely cheat on you. The solution is not to cheat at all.


*We used to call this “liberalism,” but people started to figure out what it really meant, so “progressivism” serves in its stead now.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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1 Response to Thank You, IRS

  1. Jane Carrell says:

    Well done, Terry. As you often do, you’ve turned a “spitting mad” issue into something to reflect on. Damn!!


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