I have recently run afoul of the IRS. It seems 2 years ago, my ex-wife did not include my stock losses in our tax return. Not that I blame her. I lost $900, not enough to make much of a difference, so I probably would have skipped it as well. Unfortunately, the IRS noticed I had not reported my stock transactions, and, since they could not tell how much the stocks cost, they decided every transaction was 100% profit, and so I under reported my income by $100,000.
This is not the important part. It is a rather foolish way to approach unreported stock income, as it is certain to overestimate income, but I suppose from the IRS's point of view, it maximizes taxes, so it is a good thing. No, what I want to mention is the many things I had to do to just find someone to whom I could speak about this.
First, I took half a day off work to go to the local IRS office. They welcome walk ins, or so they say. But, since it was close to April 15, when I went, I was told they were just accepting payments, and no one could talk to me until the afternoon. As I had to work that afternoon, I gave up on that, and instead called the number for the taxpayer advocate included with the claim. I was supposed to get a response in 2 business days. After two calls, and one month, I am still waiting. I sent all my documents certified mail to the same person, and, once again. Nothing.
And so, today, I again called my local office. No one answers the phone, you get a long recording and have to leave a message. A few hours later, I actually did get a return call, but from someone at a different location, who stated they could not talk about tax issues on the phone, or set appointments. When I asked if anyone would be available at the local office to talk to me, I was told, they didn't know. It depended on what the people in the office had been trained to do.
The reason I mention all this is that this entire massive apparatus, all these offices and advocates and useless phone calls, all are paid for with our tax dollars, and yet they manage to be just one step short of useless. No, I am not going to talk about wasting money, or our tax system being far from optimal, those are old topics. What troubles me is how much money the government spends on services that are either unwanted or failures. And, in truth, it is almost inevitable. it is not the result of patronage, or bad planning, it is inherent in the bureaucratic system. Divorced from profit concerns, or a need to please the customer, with the main pressures being to satisfy those who might cause any problems, be they politicians with pet projects, community activists who raise or fuss, or anyone else who might get a department into political trouble, it is inevitable that bureaucratic agencies will establish wasteful and useless procedures, as they are driven by the wrong pressures. ("The
Inevitability of Bureaucratic Management in Government Enterprises
", "Bureaucracy and Arbitrary Power
", "Grow or Die, The Inevitable Expansion of Everything
", "Fear Driven Enterprises
", "Adaptability and Government
", "Best Practices and Resistance to Change, Bureaucracy and the Free Market
", "Bureaucratic Management
", "Killing the Railroads
", "The Bureaucratic Mind
", "The Wrong Solution to Bureaucracy
", "Inflexibility and Bureaucracy
What is interesting is how profoundly hostile government is to the free market, and yet the free market, time and again, proves itself more efficient than the government. And, in those few places where the free market, or supposed free market, takes on bureaucratic characteristics, such as local utilities, or at one time the phone company, it was because the company in question was insulated from competition by government decree.
No, the free market is not perfect, perfection is not to be found in this life, but it produces results superior to any other option. It fails at times, sometimes the results are particularly bad, but so does every other system. What the free market does well is catch and correct those mistakes, and do it quickly. No other system does that. ("Third Best Economy
", "Planning For Imperfection
", "Greed Versus Evil
And every time I have to deal with the government, I am reminded of that.
Having recently dealt with the government, I am reminded once again of a question I ask often. Who could possibly imagine, having dealt with the government, that it is a good idea to entrust any more power than absolutely necessary to government bureaucracy?