“In this world nothing can be said to be certain,” Ben Franklin famously remarked, “except death and taxes.”
It’s a saying that has become so axiomatic that it scarcely requires elaboration. But a recent case in Ohio suggests the need for a corollary: It’s hard to pay your taxes when the tax collector wrongly believes you to be dead.
In this post, we will take note of a case posing that peculiar problem. But we will do so not for easily-scored points about an obvious IRS error. Our point, rather, is to call attention to how the inefficiencies of large organizations hamper our system of voluntary tax compliance.
The case that is our point of departure involves a 94-year-old veteran of World War II who wanted to pay his taxes – only to be told by the IRS that he couldn’t because he was dead.
Yes, it sounds like fodder for jokes on late-night TV. But it is a real case out of Ohio that serves as a cautionary tale about the way how big bureaucracies can reach irrational results.
We used the plural pronoun in the previous sentence quite deliberately. This is because it was not merely the IRS that was involved. The Social Security Administration (SSA) was involved as well.
When the would-be nonagenarian taxpayer and his son went to their local IRS office, the IRS attributed the erroneous information about the taxpayer’s death to the SSA. The two agencies then went back and forth on the matter for many months. But even with the intervention of the National Taxpayer Advocate, it has still not been resolved successfully.
Our point is not that the IRS should have refused to pass the buck to the SSA. It is, rather, that anytime multiple agencies are involved, the chances for irrational errors increase.
Source: Fox News, “94-year-old vet can’t file tax return because IRS says he’s dead,” January 25, 2015