The front page story in America’s Newspaper of Record this morning concerned a claim by the IRS that movie director Martin Scorsese owes $2.85 million in back taxes.
The nub of the matter seems to be that the guy Scorsese hired to manage his money was a crook. The same guy is said to have stiffed Al Pacino.
At the risk of bringing the wrath of Michael Moore down on my head, my entire sympathies are with Scorsese and Pacino. When you’ve made as much money as those guys, personally managing it must be impossible, unless you have a degree in accounting and 40 hours a week to spare. I’m a self-employed person with an upper-lower-middle-class income, a house, a wife, two kids, and a modest portfolio of mutual funds, and I’m in the third day of preparing my tax numbers — not for the IRS, but for the guy who manages my financial affairs. When I’m through, he will tell me how much I owe or have coming to me, then bill me several hundred dollars for his services. He seems to be a good guy — the relationship goes back over a decade — but I have no way to check what he tells me, nor any waterproof certainty that he might not take off for Uruguay tomorrow with my SEP (whatever an SEP is).
What proportion of the taxpaying public has any idea how much tax they owe, to within the nearest five percent? The income tax is a monstrous imposition on a free people.
Around this time of year I used to sink into despair thinking about this stuff. Nothing (I groaned) would ever change. The tax system would just get more and more incomprehensible; the tax-eaters would go on proliferating; the congresscritters would find new ways to spend money, for ever and ever, down to the crack of doom. NPR would never be defunded, nor the NEA, nor PBS. The five federal departments that have come into existence since I first arrived on these shores 38 years ago (Energy, HHS, Education, VA, Homeland Security) will go on expanding, though the U.S.A. I arrived in seemed to work just fine without them — seemed, in fact, to a young guy from the Old World, to be a paradise of freedom and opportunity. The wealth and power of government would grow and grow; our liberties would dwindle correspondingly, down into that soft despotism de Tocqueville warned us of.
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it, having devoted much effort to spreading pessimism among the populace, but this year I feel brighter than usual. I’m thinking that maybe the coming smash will be catastrophic enough to bring down the whole rotten edifice — IRS, NPR, HHS, and all. Perhaps in the rubble of post-liberal America we shall recover our liberties. Who knows? I’m quite looking forward to the Big Splatter.
Okay, gotta get back to my tax prep.