I’m not sure at what point one is officially a cynic, but this is the second day in a row that I’ve got something to complain about. This time around, it’ the US government. I do however, promise that tomorrow’s episode will contain a more uplifting story.
So, several news outlets are reporting that the IRS can now block, revoke or deny one’s passport based on delinquent taxes, effectively turning the US into one giant debtor’s prison. On the surface, this doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world. And I do suppose that on the spectrum of things to be mad at, this is eclipsed by many other atrocities. That said, I think it’s crap, it relates to travel and I’m here to offer my take on why I think this sets a very dangerous precedent.
Before I get into calling bullshit where I see it, I’m reminded of a disclaimer that one professor laid out on the first day of a tax class during my graduate accounting program. He basically said this:
“much of what you’re going to learn in this, or pretty much any tax class, isn’t going to make sense. You’re going to shake your head and assume I’m wrong. You’re going to think this because you’ve failed to consider where tax law comes from. We’ve got 500+ congresspeople all trying to slip in what they can, whenever they can, all under the radar while simultaneously managing an alcohol, drug or hooker addiction, the need to appear tough and the need to appease their real constituents, the lobbyists. Of course, what comes out of that is going to make no sense.”
I’m sure I butchered the exact quote, but the monologue’s messages stuck, and I think it applies particularly well to this story. Now let’s start with the facts, what exactly are we dealing with here? Back in 2015, the government did what it does best and passed a law with a name that directly contradicts the content of it. In this case, the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act”.
Contained in this cluster is a change to the US Internal Revenue Code that permits the IRS to cancel the passport of any taxpayer who has a delinquent assessed tax debt exceeding $50,000.
Now at first, you might not think this sounds so bad. After all, I remit my legally extorted plunder to the Crown, why should some presumed tax cheat get to just gallivant around the world, with no repercussions. Shouldn’t they be trapped within our borders until they pay? I get it, tax is one of these polarizing issues that tends to really flair emotions. Well, I guess everything is these days. But since it effects just about everyone, it’s particularly thorny. Then we have uber-self-righteous specimens like this guy, Alexandre de Croy, who commented the following:
His carefully thought out dissertation, likely self-characterized as a masterpiece of pragmatic reflection on the complex moral issues surrounding taxation, sidesteps the biggest problem with this legislation. That is, the IRS, an administrative agency, having the power to unilaterally restrict one’s constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of travel. Instead, Alexandre the Douche goes right to the issue of whether taxation itself is moral. After writing this, I’m guessing he quickly grabbed a long-stemmed wine glass, flatulated in it, then took a big smug whiff.
Back to the topic at hand. My biggest problem is that this legislation gives an administrative agency, not the judicial system, the ability to strip a right. Even more appalling, is the agency in question. The same one that just last year, was on Capitol Hill, trying desperately, yet pathetically, to explain their role in the unequal treatment of political groups, depending on which side of the aisle they were one. In fact, wasn’t it one of their executives who would likely be a candidate for “most use of the 5th amendment” during a congressional hearing?
Furthermore, they routinely mishandle tax returns, drain small-business bank accounts on ultimately incorrect suspicions and generally annoy the sh*t out of anyone who has the misfortune of dealing with them.
In the United States, one is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, in court, not via some faceless bureaucrat’s rubber stamp. I find it awful that the country has basically whittled this guarantee down to apply only to things arbitrarily classed as criminal. In other words, as long as it’s not throwing someone in jail or executing them, people seem to be OK with the government handing out punishments prior to conviction, so long as it’s labeled a civil action. Apparently, form is now more important than substance, when it really should be the other way around. In my opinion, the government shouldn’t be able to do anything that negatively effects your life without a court order. And yes, this certainly includes the cancellation of one’s passport. If the IRS doesn’t have the evidence, resolve or resources to take it before a judge and jury, they shouldn’t have the ability self-administer consequences.