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May 15, 2013

Unintended Consequences

Have faith: every problem has an upside:

The Obama administration is doing a far better job making the case for conservatism than Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, or John Boehner ever did. Showing is always better than telling, and when the government overreaches in so many ways it gives support to the conservative argument about the inherently rapacious nature of government.

The ability of human societies to right themselves should never be underestimated. Being human - and flawed - we learn best by experience.

Posted by Cassandra at May 15, 2013 08:56 AM

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This is a bigger crack in the wall of liberal complacency than I've seen for a while.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 15, 2013 11:56 AM

My partner had a similar experience once. His client was charged with breaking a few regulations - more than a few really, but nothing criminal or dangerous - a paperwork failure mostly. Anyway, the client recognized that he'd messed up his paperwork, but only because he did not understand the 87,389-odd rules that he had to follow. And every time he'd ask the agency a question, they'd reply by sending him a copy of the law or regulation that they thought was applicable to his question. But they never answered his questions,and the laws and regulations they sent him were nearly indecipherable. It's like he's asked what απελπισμένος means, and they sent him a Greek dictionary, in Greek.

This went on like this for about 2 1/2 years, until one day the client calls the agency and tells them that he's really concerned that he's doing something wrong, and really needs someone to work with him to make sure that he's following the law. The agency supplied its help by swooping into business like a gang of jackbooted Nazis, seizing his records and computers, investigating his customers (who were all soon ex-customers) and conducting a 13 month-long audit of every facet of the client's business. Eventually, the client closed in his business because, in effect, if not in law, the agency had shut him down. Something like 18 months later, the agency finally brought charges against the client for *gasp* failing to keep records in accordance with agency regulations, which resulted in the agency being denied the full measure owed to it by the client over the prior 2 1/2 years - a hanging offense.

Total amount not paid to the agency over the prior 2 1/2 years due to client's failure to keep proper paperwork: $91.00
Total amount the client paid into the agency over the same period (prior to being shut down): $560,000.

Now that's what I call good governance.

But it gets better: Not only did the agency cut off a hefty stream of revenue as the result of its ridiculous response, it also put a couple of dozen taxpayers out of work and onto the unemployment line, reduced, and then ended, the local tax revenues received from the client's business, and only cost the state something like $200,000 to investigate! Such a deal.

About here is where it finally dawns on the agency that maybe it mighta-kinda screwed up going after this $91.00 so hard, and that maybe it ought to lessen the impact somewhat... not the impact on the client, of course, the impact on the agency... by demanding that the client pay the agency for the cost of the investigation that put him out of business, but scored $91.00 in excise taxes.

And that is when the client got really, really pissed-off and declared war by shining the 100-Kajillawatt Light of Righteous Public Outrage right into the beady-eyed pinched faces of the bumbling bureaucrats. And, lo! It was a beat down of biblical proportion: Goliath proved no giant - just a big, arrogant dickhead.

The judge found the client guilty of the charge of improper record keeping (to which the client had previously admitted)and fined him $100. Case closed.

But the agency found itself on the receiving end of a scalding opinion from the judge, which led some really angry legislators to call for heads-on-stakes, clip the agency's wings and (most importantly)fix the goddamned laws so that those governed by them can understand them. Of course, there are 98,923,465 other laws that still need fixing, but that's a problem for some other agency on some other day.

And so it goes.

Posted by: spd rdr at May 15, 2013 07:25 PM

Wow! Helluva day when *Slate(!)* administers a beat down to Obama!

Quite a comment spd rdr. It's tragic the IRS is so awful that the story is immediately credible.

Posted by: CAPT Mike at May 15, 2013 11:15 PM


I've had very little experience with the IRS, but several years ago when we were stationed in California for a few years, I had to file quarterly state taxes with (depending on the year) the state of Maryland, the state of California, or both Maryland and California.

It was tricky, because a large part of my annual earnings at the time came from one or two bonuses a year. To file quarterly taxes, you have to carefully estimate your earnings and I never knew whether I'd even *get* a bonus, when it would hit, or how much it would be.

And of course there were penalties for over- or underpaying. Which meant that you couldn't even err on the side of overpaying to be safe without getting into trouble.


At some point I got a letter from the state of Maryland about some incredibly trivial thing. I don't even remember what it was, now. The letter threatened all sorts of dire consequences if I didn't do the right thing IMMEDIATELY!!!11!. Of course, I called them right away, but trying to get that sorted out was one of the more stressful experiences I've ever had. No one could answer my questions, or tell me what to do. No one's boss knew, either, and pretty much everyone I talked to said, "Oh, don't worry about the letter - we threaten everyone (!).

And I remember thinking, "Jeez - if you folks don't even understand your own system, how in the heck are ordinary people supposed to follow the rules?"

Posted by: Cassandra at May 16, 2013 06:39 AM

Tex, I thought the Slate article particularly amusing since the author wrote another one a few months ago advising Obama to "destroy" the Republican party :p

Posted by: Cassandra at May 16, 2013 06:40 AM

"Jeez - if you folks don't even understand your own system, how in the heck are ordinary people supposed to follow the rules?"

It was bad enough when there were merely so many laws that the average citizen can't actually follow them all -- what was that estimate about the typical citizen committing three felony-level violations of regulatory law daily with no one the wiser? But if even the government can't explain to you what you're doing wrong or how to stop being in the wrong, yet still tries to enforce the law, isn't this pretty much just arbitrary abuse of the citizens by the government?

Posted by: Matt at May 16, 2013 10:16 AM

"But if even the government can't explain to you what you're doing wrong or how to stop being in the wrong, yet still tries to enforce the law, isn't this pretty much just arbitrary abuse of the citizens by the government?"

Yes and no.

When it enforces the law against things like theft and murder, no. Pretty much everyone knows and understands those.

But most of us aren't hauled into court because we haven't pissed off a gov't official with sufficient clout to do anything about it.

That "filmmaker" found out what happens when you do.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 16, 2013 10:21 AM