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But Who Am I to Argue with Ralph Kramden?

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Lawrence Zelenak wants us to “celebrate” the annual ritual of reporting to the government the intimate details of how much money we earn and how we go about earning it (“When We Loved Form 1040,” April 1).  According to Prof. Zelenak, “the filing of Form 1040 draws our attention to our duties as citizens in a way that no other levy, including a national sales tax, could.”

Overlook the dubious presumptions that constitute Prof. Zelenak’s understanding of government – an understanding that rises no higher than the offering in a typical 1950s high-school civics text.  Focus instead on Prof. Zelenak’s applause for tax withholding.  This applause is at odds with his larger point.

If spending time and effort connecting with tax collectors helpfully “draws our attention to our duties as citizens,” then tax withholding short-circuits that attention.  So why not eliminate withholding and oblige each income earner to pay every cent of his or her tax bill by writing personal checks to the IRS?  Not only would elimination of withholding make us even more attentive to our “duties as citizens,” we would also – as any behavioral economist would point out – gain a truer and more fully felt sense of the price we pay for Uncle Sam’s splendors.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

Upon Jim Buchanan‘s death in January, more than one pundit claimed that Buchanan is overrated because he, allegedly, said only what is obvious to everyone.  Zelenak’s op-ed in today’s NY Times is evidence against these pundits’ claims.


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