Streetwise Professor

April 12, 2011

Imitating Russia Is Seldom the Road to Greater Personal Freedom

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 6:45 pm

In 1839 Custine wrote about how in Tsarist Russia, those who wanted to travel abroad had to receive permission from the police, and you could not obtain it unless you could prove that you had no debts.  (The would-be traveler had to announce his intentions in the paper three times to alert creditors.)  In 2009, Russia re-instituted the practice.  In 2011, something of the like is being seriously considered in the US–at least if the US government is whom you owe (h/t R):

Owe thousands in back taxes and need to get out of the country? No problem. Under current law, the State Department can’t withhold a passport over unpaid taxes.

But that could change, if lawmakers decide to run with the findings of a new government report suggests Uncle Sam could recoup billions by blocking delinquent Americans from getting passports until they settle their debts to the IRS.

The Government Accountability Office, at the request of Congress, released a study Monday examining how the government could leverage the passport process to recover unpaid taxes. The office found that in fiscal 2008, Americans who received passports owed a collective $5.8 billion to the IRS. The debt of the internationally traveling public, though, is likely far larger, considering that estimate only factored in a year’s worth of recipients.

The GAO report projected that linking passports and tax obligations could lead to a windfall for the IRS, if Congress opts to draft legislation making that possible.

“The federal government has a vital interest in efficiently and effectively collecting the billions of dollars of taxes owed under current law,” the report said. “Such legislation could have the potential to help generate substantial collections of known unpaid federal taxes and increase tax compliance for tens of millions of Americans holding passports.”

You may argue about the merits or demerits of this.  But make no mistake.  This is a harbinger of things to come.  The government’s dire fiscal position is going to lead it to be more intrusive, more aggressive, and a greater threat to individual liberties.  Junkies do increasingly desperate things to feed their habit, and it would be naive in the extreme to expect the spending junkies in DC to be any exception.

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  1. When the people fail to comply with the orders of the government, it only makes sense to take extrajudicial actions to deprive the people of their freedoms. Once we have to start requiring judicial oversight prior to depriving the people of their individual rights, the powers of government become limited by such discredited principles such as liberty, individual freedom, human rights and rule of law.

    Comment by Charles — April 13, 2011 @ 9:20 am

  2. An American owing back taxes can’t obtain a passport, but one who owes back taxes can serve as Sec of Treasury and oversee the activities of the IRS!?!?!?

    Comment by Charles — April 13, 2011 @ 9:47 am

  3. “Imitating Russia Is Seldom the Road to Greater Personal Freedom”

    Not always. For instance, adopting its attitude to copyright enforcement will enable hundreds of millions of Americans to comfortably download books, films, video games, etc., without risking $1000’s in tariffs.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — April 13, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  4. Hmmmm. What about people who owe the government for their student loans? That’s a whole lot of people who could be denied the right to leave the country.

    Comment by Matt — April 27, 2011 @ 2:39 am

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