Thursday, April 15, 2004

For nearly 13 years, until October 2003, I was a tax collector for the Internal Revenue Service. I was a field officer, spending the majority of my time making unannounced visits to businesses and individuals who owed federal taxes. I never expected a warm reception and rarely did I receive one.

And whose doors did I knock on? The carpet installer, the day-care center operator, the Wal-Mart clerk, the carpenter, the print shop owner. The majority of the taxes I collected were from the small-business owner with fewer than 20 employees. I long ago lost count of how many weed-choked fields I have trudged across to inspect some broken-down piece of farm equipment; how many musty warehouses, dilapidated mobile homes, cluttered shops and offices reeking of sweat and that peculiar odor of human desperation I have sat in; the number of ill-educated tradesmen, struggling entrepreneurs and desperate homemakers I have interrogated, demanding the impossible and promising the full fury of my federal power when my demands could not be met.

It is no secret that the nation's tax code favors the wealthy and protects big business. (An astounding 63 percent of United States corporations paid no federal income tax at all in 2000.) The individuals and businesses I encountered during my career did not have an army of tax lawyers, certified public accountants and lobbyists to guide and protect them. Most netted less than $30,000 per year. Most operated out of rundown store fronts in tired strip malls. Most were honest people who knew my arrival was the death knell of their American dream.

It should come as no surprise: the I.R.S. goes where the money's owed, and the money is owed by the little guy. When the service was reorganized in the late 1990's, it moved collection personnel to the small business/self-employed division; the other compliance division, which handles medium and large businesses, has no collection employees at all. Squeezed between a complex tax code that favors big business and an agency that marshals the entirety of its resources against him, the little guy doesn't stand a chance. He doesn't have the money to pay or to find a way out of paying.

A day late for most of you at this point, I have to imagine, but still interesting. The author, Richard Yancey, apparently just published a book about life inside that most despised of wing of the government machine which sounds pretty fucking interesting, right?

Btw, Neal Stephenson has published the sequel to Quicksilver, called The Confusion. How come nobody told me?


So, how y'all been?

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