New Numbers on I.R.S. Liens, Levies, and Seizures

The IRS Data Book is out. It includes information on IRS enforcement activity. In the charts below I’ve combined the numbers from this Data Book with those from an earlier edition to give a longer-term picture (I wasn’t able to find earlier figures for non-filers).

The number of people who file but who don’t include a check for what they “owe” has been increasing:

And the IRS’s backlog of these delinquent accounts has been going up as well:

The number of people who fail to file their returns when they’re supposed to also seems to be going up:

The IRS is responding with increased enforcement activity, including levies…


…and, much more rarely, seizures.

The War Tax Boycott web site now includes a notice about “frivolous” warnings from the IRS.

The IRS is empowered to issue $5,000 fines to people who take what they call “frivolous” positions on their tax returns or in other filings with the agency or the tax court.

Occasionally, the IRS will send a frivolous filing warning to people who merely write them a letter laying out their conscientious objection to paying taxes. According to the War Tax Boycott site:

These letters seem to be randomly sent to some (by no means all) war tax resisters who send the IRS a letter about their refusal to pay for war.… Sometimes the IRS has sent this letter to people who have paid their taxes in full but enclosed a letter of protest paying for war.…

The site suggests that the IRS is using these letters to try to intimidate war tax resisters and people who let the government know of their conscientious objection. The site also quotes from the tax code to show that a frivolous filing penalty can only legally be assessed in narrow cases, and can’t just be handed out to anyone who is uppity enough to say “I wish we didn’t have to pay for war.”

My own policy, thus far, has been not to bother communicating with the IRS much beyond what they require of me. I don’t think their machines care what I think of them, and I’ve got better uses for my time than to correspond with them about how I think about things.

But for those tax resisters who want to explain themselves to the IRS, the advice I usually give goes something like this: Don’t phrase what you say in a way that can be considered a legal argument. It’s okay to say that your conscience forbids you to pay taxes. But if you go on to say that you think some Constitutional Amendment or the Nuremberg Principles or something gives you legal authorization to take that stand, the IRS may interpret this as some sort of amateur pro se legal argument, and may declare your letter to be not just an expression of opinion but a “frivolous filing.”

I should say that this is just guesswork on my part. It’s just as likely that the IRS sends out these “frivolous filing” notices more-or-less randomly and arbitrarily, based more on who’s stuffing envelopes on any particular day than on any articulable policies.

Here’s an idea that’s long-overdue: It’s modeled after Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book — a sort of Boy Scout Handbook for the politically radical counterculture of America — but brought up-to-date and given the benefit of Wikipedia-like group authorship.

Caleb Johnson has written a piece for the New Hampshire Free Press on “Why I Am An Anarchist” that has the stateliness (so to speak) and deliberateness that I usually have to go back to prose to find.

I like that sort of thing, but I’m afraid to most modern readers it’ll seem in costume, like someone wearing a bowler and spats.

Which is too bad, because it contains some gems:

“What… are we to do about murderers? Let them run the streets?” Now, this is a curious question, because states are themselves murderers, only they accomplish their killings by the millions rather than individually. And we not only let them run our streets, as it were, but we let them patrol them. So it is as if we hire the bank robber to keep the children from stealing from our raspberry bush; not only that, we give him the key to our safe. Then we console ourselves that our bank robber is not as bad as the one that the neighbors hired to safeguard their raspberry bush.

And my favorite paragraph, which puts me in mind of Thoreau’s warning that “Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.”:

Last year, I did not steal, nor did I rape, nor did I plunder or kill or defraud. Nor would I have done those things even if they had been legal. I needed no law to inform me of right and wrong; nor, I trust, did you. On the other hand, how many men did things that they otherwise would not have done, merely because the state said that it was okay? Would hundreds of thousands of young men, merely on their own initiative, have armed themselves to the teeth and journeyed to Iraq to torture, kill, and terrorize? No, to accomplish that great evil they needed a state to tell them that it was all right to do what they would otherwise find repugnant.