by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
What arguably has become the most successful American corporation of this generation is accused of doing things a normal person would hardly call kosher—even if they are perfectly legal—such as arranging its business to generate profits in countries where profits are lightly taxed or even beyond any constituency.
But we’re not talking about normal people; we’re talking about tax lawyers, lobbyists, and members of Congress, who contrive a tax code so complicated as to ensure their own future employment. Clearly, a simple, straightforward tax system would obviate the need to seek favors or to exploit its features, which in turn would dry up an important source of campaign contributions for those who make the laws.
So, it was the very definition of chutzpah for Sen. Carl Levin’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to demand to know why Apple had used, to its maximum advantage, the law Congress had written. At least the Michigan Democrat kept a relatively civil tongue during the inquiry, unlike his upbraiding of Goldman Sachs (GS) during a 2010 hearing in which he quoted from an e-mail regarding one of the firm’s bubble-era mortgage-backed-securities offerings and described it in scatological terms nearly a dozen times.
Obviously, reform of the tax code to do away with abuses, whether real or perceived, could be enacted by Congress if it chose, but that would be hard work, as opposed to political theater. And D.C. has more play-acting these days than Broadway, amid the fallout over the Benghazi tragedy, secret subpoenas for Associated Press reporters’ material, and the top Beltway brouhaha: the investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Here, at least, we’ve found a villain we can all agree on. And the reason for IRS agents concentrating their ire on groups with Tea Party or Liberty in their names just might have something to do with the desire by such groups to curb the power of the government—especially its power to tax, which as former Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, is the power to destroy.