Issues, Tax

World’s Most Misleading Headlines

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By Guest Author: Dan Mitchell of The Cato Institute —

When I wrote about the media, it’s generally to criticize sloppy and/or biased reporting

But maybe I need to have a new category that features misleading headlines.

For instance, here’s a report by Fox Business News that grabbed my attention because of the headline. The story is about the arrest of an IRS bureaucrat.

The main reason I was startled by the story is that it didn’t seem at all newsworthy.

To be blunt, isn’t it the job of IRS employees to use our Social Security numbers to steal our money? That’s certainly what goes through my mind as I fill out my tax return.

So why was this bureaucrat arrested?

Was it for being a slacker, I wondered? The federal government confiscates about $3.5 trillion of our money each year, after all, which means the 95,000 IRS bureaucrats generate an average haul of more than $35 million. By contrast, $326 thousand is a mere pittance.

But then I read the story and realized that the story was about a completely different kind of theft. It appears that the bureaucrat was getting in on the nationwide scam of filing false claims to get EIC handouts.

An IRS employee who worked in the agency’s St. Louis, MO., office pled guilty this week to charges of tax fraud. Demetria Brown netted $326,000 in a fraud in which she stole taxpayer identities and created fake tax returns to steal refunds. …The scheme lasted seven years from 2008 to 2001.

So my first instinct was correct. There isn’t really anything newsworthy in that story. After all, nobody should be surprised that income-redistribution programs such as the EIC attract a lot of fraud. Nobody should be surprised that an IRS bureaucrat decided to take other people’s money (above and beyond the excessive salary the rest of us paid for). And nobody should be surprised that the other bureaucrats at the IRS were so incompetent that the scam was successful for seven years.

By the way, this isn’t the first time a thieving IRS bureaucrat generated a story with a misleading headline.

Speaking of which, here’s our second example of a headline that creates a completely false impression. It’s from a story in the Toronto Star.

Needless to say, I was completely shocked at first. After all, France is the nation where the national sport is taxation. It’s the country where taxes are so onerous that even the European Commission warns about over-taxation. It’s the nation where thousands of people have to pay more than 100 percent of their income to the tax authorities. It’s the country where high taxes are equated to patriotism. And it’s the nation that pushes tax policies that are so radical than even the Obama Administration sometimes says no.

So is it true? Is France going to become a Libertopia? The Galt’s Gulch of Europe?

But then my bubble burst. It turns out the story is about a technical shift in how taxes are collected.

The government wants to shift to a system of automatic withholding, similar to that in Canada and much of the rest of the world. Employees in France currently pay taxes a year after their income is earned. Christian Eckert, France’s budget secretary, said Wednesday that the government will not double-tax workers in 2018, the year automatic withholding is to begin. So 2017 incomes could effectively be tax-free for regular salaries. Taxpayers won’t actually feel much of a difference though — they would still spend 2017 paying for the previous year.

By Dan Mitchell

Though this might create an interesting social science experiment.

Depending on how rigorously France decides to be with its definition of “regular salaries,” this might be an opportunity for long-suffering French taxpayers to figure out ways of delaying 2016 income until 2017 and accelerating 2018 income so it’s received in 2017.

This could be a particularly useful strategy for investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners, all of whom (if they’re like their American counterparts) presumably have some control over the timing, level, and composition of their income.

But I suspect the French government already is contemplating ways of making sure that every possible penny is being taxed at the highest possible rate, so I won’t hold my breath.

 

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