"The difference between death and taxes is death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets." -- Will Rogers
A 2003 survey by Bankrate.com asked Americans whether they ever cheated on their taxes. Eighty-seven percent said, rather huffily, certainly not! But 13 percent said (I paraphrase), whadya mean cheat?
Well, now, 13 percent who admit to cheating is pretty high, don't you agree? That's 13 percent honest cheaters. How many people do you suppose are cheating and lying about cheating? Hmmm.
Another question in the survey may shed light on this. "What percentage of people do you think have ever 'fudged' the truth, even a little bit, on their taxes -- by doing things such as overstating how much money they donated to charity?" Answer: 49 percent.
One hates to be a cynic, but contemplating other areas of American life, one is hardly overcome with a sense of national rectitude. Professional baseball players, doctors, coaches and owners have conspired to cheat with steroids. Corporate executives are cluttering the courts with creative schemes to defraud investors, clients and customers. Students are cheating on exams (sometimes with the aid of their teachers who are attempting to beat state-mandated tests). Journalists invent sources. Employees loot their employers to the tune of $50 billion per year. Shoppers make off with about $13 billion worth of products through shoplifting every year. No one obeys speed limits.
Are we then to believe that only a small minority of taxpayers, offered the opportunity to cheat such an impersonal entity as the U.S. Treasury, are declining to do so? The Internal Revenue Service reports a gap of almost $300 billion between what taxpayers should pay and what they do pay.
Clearly, some taxpayers have more scope for dishonesty than others. Salaried employees can lie about their charitable contributions and other deductions, but it's difficult for them to hide income. The self-employed, by contrast, and small businesses have ample opportunities to fudge. As the inimitable Will Rogers put it, "The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than the game of golf has."