In the video below, comedian John Oliver takes on the IRS, but the result isn’t what you might think.
Question: What’s worse than a government body whose job is to take money from Americans? Answer: A grossly underfunded government body whose job is to take money from Americans.
Very few people actually like the IRS. Oliver compares tax season to bathing suit season: most people probably dread it unless they spend a lot of their time in the Cayman Islands.
In 2015, people’s dislike of the IRS may have reached record levels. Longer lines at IRS offices and longer wait times on IRS phone lines fueled taxpayer ire. Only four in ten callers to the IRS toll free line actually reach a live person. There have been five million “courtesy disconnects” in 2015 so far. A courtesy disconnect is when the IRS system hangs up on the caller.
Says Oliver, putting a good word in front of a bad one doesn’t change the meaning. Care Bears, he says, are still bears and if given the chance they will rip you apart. It’s in their blood.
Why Do We Hate the IRS?
Oliver says it’s no wonder people hate the IRS. They’re unavoidable, they often function poorly and they combine things we hate the most: losing money and math. Still, working for the IRS can’t be pleasant. An IRS employee says they’ve had everything mailed in from vacuum cleaner dust to brown sugar to mustard spread on checks. Even state governors have demonized the IRS.
Governor Paul LePage of Maine compared the IRS to the Nazi Gestapo.
“It was never intended to offend anyone,” said LePage.
According to Oliver, if you compare a person to the Gestapo and they aren’t offended, that’s a huge red flag.
The public image of IRS employees as evil money-grabbing Nazis doesn’t match what the actual people working there are like. Oliver points to IRS YouTube videos where the employees seem more boring than anything. As evidence, he plays clips with wooden looking IRS employees talking about data processing, accounting, budgeting and other exciting topics, then calls the people in the clips “the human equivalent of Ambien.
Hating IRS Employees is Irrational
Oliver points out that most people hate the IRS because of how much money they have to pay in taxes. He says that has nothing to do with IRS employees and is determined by a vote in Congress, the same as declarations of war and how long Orren Hatch is allowed to orgasm.
Even overcomplicated tax codes are the fault of Congress. Many IRS employees have just as much trouble keeping up with confusing tax laws as taxpayers do. One IRS employee in the video says there were 579 changes in the tax law in one year. How do IRS employees keep up with the changes? According to the IRS employee, they don’t. Oliver comments that the only document that should change that often is the Wikipedia page for Bill Cosby.
Oliver says blaming the IRS because you hate paying taxes is kind of like slapping a grocery store checkout clerk because the price of eggs has gone up. It’s not her fault.
IRS Budget Cuts
The worst part, says Oliver, is that the tax department’s budget has been slashed nearly 20% in five years. The cuts have resulted in longer lines at tax offices and longer phone wait times for taxpayers. The IRS has had to cut over 13,000 employees in the past few years. Most federal tax employees are over 50, which Oliver says is bad because “a government agency shouldn’t have the same age ratio as an Eric Clapton concert.”
More than half of all tax returns are stored on magnetic tap storage systems invented in the 1960s. Says Oliver, we shouldn’t fund the IRS just because they’re using tech older than a Duck Hunt cartridge. We should fund them because the tax system is based on trust. He says if we lose faith in the tax department, the country loses money. If the compliance rate drops by just one percent, the country will lose $30 billion in a single year.
Oliver suggests that a few moments of appreciation for the IRS are warranted. However, expressing heartfelt emotion is not his strong suit, he says, because he’s British. Therefore, Oliver rounds out the video with a love song for the tax department, sung by Grammy award winner Michael Bolton.
Here’s Bolton’s song for the IRS: