When law becomes a substitute for morality

When law becomes a substitute for morality

reblogged from the renounceuscitizenship wordpress blog

Today I’ve decided that I would like to go back and reblog some of the best expat posts from the last five years. For lack of a better title, I am going to call it the “A Blast From the Past Series.” This week I am going to focus on the disconnect between law and morality.

Every now and then I realize that people are still coming into awareness and that they do not realize a lot of what has gone on; how long some of us have been involved in this and most importantly, why some of us are so vehemently resistant and unyielding when it comes to evaluating the U.S. government, the tax compliance industry and so on. I guess some of us are afraid that this long period of lassitude may give a false sense of “safety.”

Without resorting to outright fearmongering, there are a number of things that may not happen (tax reform) or that will change (discontinuation of the Streamlined Program) etc. Our main reason for being involved in this from the very beginning, was to get the word out, to do our own research/take responsibility for educating ourselves and others about this hideous situation. I think it is important for people to understand how this situation has played out since the beginning……..

One of the worst aspects of everything happening today is the growing lack of morality in the world. I mean this in the “big” sense of the word; something which is on the mind of every human being as we watch America turn from being an open and welcoming society into one moving toward closed borders, over-the-top surveillance, etc. Today the Secy of Homeland Security literally said he was considering separating (illegal) parents from their (American-born) children. Unbelievably cruel and totally unnecessary. And the reinstatement of the “travel ban” which has been tweaked a bit but cannot possibly be seen for anything except what is clearly is – a move to keep Muslims out of America.

What does this have to do with us? Everything. Because when you see your government behaving like this, you are forced to evaluate two things:

1) Can YOU trust them?
2) Is there any reason to reject them/protect yourself given the unusual situation expats find themselves in?

In addition to being scared out of my mind and full of doubt whether to renounce or not (late 2011), what I could not ignore was my observation of how the U.S. was behaving outside the law. Clear, undeniable abuse of the law. Invading Pakistani airspace (I don’t care what the reason, that is not supposed to be done); the horrid abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib ; the assassination of Americans without due process and worst of all, holding men at Guantanamo Bay for as long as 12 years without charge, torture, etc. I did not find it difficult to believe the U.S. would think nothing of destroying our retirement by forcing me to sell my home to pay FBAR fines. It was a no-brainer.

Everyone has to come around to this decision on their own terms. All the more reason however, to take a long hard look at what has gone on over the last five years (which should influence whatever decision you choose to make).

Some of the people mentioned in this post you may not be aware of:

renounceuscitizenship – in addition to his/her own blog, one of most influential authors at the Isaac Brock Society from the beginning. Has an uncanny ability to predict long in advance, how things are going to move and a piercing, unbending analytical approach to assessing the source of our issues. Originator of the Renounce & Rejoice meme.

Steven J. Mopsick – aka “30 year IRS Vet” – a former IRS attorney who took part in a lot of the early conversations at Brock. The relationship was friendly at first and eventually disintegrated due to the natural friction between someone from a compliance point-of-view and those who did not intend to buckle under. A nice gentleman of whom was said “You can take the man out of the IRS but you cannot take the IRS out of the man.”

JustMe a much-beloved expat who suffered two-plus long years having entered the 2009 OVDP program, trying to make things right. He coined many of our expat idioms: “LCUs (Life Credit Units – how much of your life lost trying to deal with this); FATCAnatics (you can guess); CC&W (Complain, Comply & Warn-his explanation of what he was doing!),DATCA, GATCA, and so on. After he requested the help of the Taxpayer Advocate, he spent quite a long time devoting himself to our cause and taught a lot of us how to do Twitter, learn html, you name it. He finally needed to put it aside (I am sure his wife was happy about this!) and is much missed……..

Former Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geitner aka “Turbo Tax Timmy” – who hadn’t paid social security or self-employment taxes on income received from the International Monetary Fund from 2001 to 2004; the IRS audited Geithner for tax years 2003 and 2004, which resulted in him paying back taxes and interest–but no penalties–totaling $16,732. Geithner voluntarily amended his 2001 and 2002 returns only after Obama expressed interest in nominating him to the Treasury post. The total bill this time: $25,970. He also failed to get proper verification for three individuals who worked for his family. As a prior Treasury employee who prior to Secy position, had run the NY Federal Reserve, one has to wonder how he could fail to understand social security or SE tax. This was infuriating to expats suffering through the OVDP/OVDI penalties. As well, former Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY), a sponsor of FATCA, headed the powerful House Ways and Means Committee that writes the nation’s tax laws, was censured by the House of Representatives in December for ethics violations.A chief violation included his failure to pay 17 years’ worth of taxes on rental income from the Dominican Republic property. GRRRRRRR! (still burns……..)
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tombstones

The following tweet appeared as a post at the Isaac Brock Society and generated a collection of comments.

To provide some context:
Steven J. Mopsick wrote a post which was a report of his experience at a recent FATCA conference. He was impressed by how the attendees were exploiting the business opportunity (inadvertently referring to them as “steakholders”) that FATCA has created for the compliance industry. Interestingly, Mr. Mopsick specifically makes the point that:

The focus of the conference was strictly on FATCA from the standpoint of complying financial institutions. Most of the participants did not even know about and individual’s duty to file FBAR’s, Foreign Asset Statements (form 8938) and there was very little talk about privacy concerns, fears about the dangers of an emerging international banking data base system, or how Canadian politicians were doing in shaking their lap dog image as pawns of the US government.

In other words: the focus was on the law of FATCA with no consideration of the morality, unintended consequences or effect on society as a whole. (Most law students would kill to have a prof like this!) To put it another way, the important consideration is the law itself. The fact of the law itself is the only issue. The values that underlie the law are irrelevant.
“Just Me” in his usual “wit and wisdom” commented that:

This is the Truism I take away from Steven: “The people around the world who stand to profit from FATCA are not thinking much about government intrusions into the private lives of the world citizens.”

“Them’s the FATCAs FACTs”, as they say.

Although, they may think it is a ‘business and growth opportunity’ others see it as a pending financial disaster for the World’s economy. Who is right? I think the latter, but we shall see. I could be wrong.

FATCA and US fiscal imperialism threaten to sink global economy

In all due respect to 30 year IRS vet, I think he may have his perspectives twisted (which comes from his background?) when he thinks that profiting off the backs of the government regulatory tit is “free enterprise/free market system at work.” Rather, it represents the worst of unprincipled and amoral aspects of human nature at work. These actions are not based upon free enterprise/free markets, but on artificial markets based upon dubious legal assertions.

Free markets do not require or accept extortion as their engine of enterprise.

I can think of other examples of so called free enterprise ~70 years ago, where other“hard-working, serious, responsible business men and women who were on their way up in their companies” were probably attending conferences on how to ramp up manufacturing and supply of cattle cars for another freight train in another era that he would not be so willing to celebrate. He would not like that comparison, and maybe it is a bit hyperbolic, but the same human nature principle is at work.

More recently, there was an army of war profiteering “hard-working, serious, responsible business men and women” contractors, attending conferences in Vegas to learn how suckling off the “free enterprise” of ‘War Contracting Gone Wild’ could benefit their companies. They didn’t want to get left out of the ‘business and growth opportunity’that an amoral and unnecessary war provided. What if the government threw a contractor party to support its misguided war effort at that time, and no one came? I blame the compliant and willing contractors co-enablers as much as the government initiators for the sad legacy we left in Iraq.

Maybe in fairness to Steven, what he is saying, is yes, human nature is responding to an artificial market that would NOT exist, except for US hubris, financial imperialism and extra-territoriality. I don’t think I would be citing the FATCA Compliance Industrial Complex’s (FCIC) “hard-working, serious, responsible business men and women” as an example of ‘supply and demand’ in action that Adam Smith would identity or praise.

Although I certainly agree that “Free markets do not require or accept extortion as their engine of enterprise”, the Mopsick post raises an even larger issue. Mr. Mopsick has and continues to make an enormous contribution to the discussion of FATCA, FBAR and U.S. tax compliance in general. Some of the best thinking on these topics may be found in the “Mopsick Trilogy” – a series of posts that he wrote about the compliance problems facing US citizens abroad. His posts are a unique blend of raising questions and answering questions. In this case, his post has raised an important issue.

The issue is that, in the America of today, laws have become a substitute for morality. A society where laws have become a substitute for morality, is a society that is past the point of “no return”. This is where “Form Nation” – AKA The United States of America – finds itself today.

“Form Nation” – A country structured by laws and not by men

In the beginning we had the ten commandments which were expressions of the fundamental principles of justice. The ten commandments reflected principles which were for the common good. Gradually legislatures began to create laws. In the early stages of society, these laws were specific applications of fundamental principles of justice and for the most part these laws continued to be for the common good.

What is in the common good is not necessarily what is good for specific individuals. Those specific individuals who control the political process have strong incentives to act in their interest at the expense of the public interest.

Once legislatures saw how easy it was to create laws, they began to create laws which were NOT for the common good but were to benefit specific individuals at the expense of the common good. That’s how the Internal Revenue Code and regs grew to 17,000 pages. It’s simply incredible. Mr. Romney pays low tax on his “carried interests” and U.S. citizens abroad pay confiscatory taxes on their mutual funds “PFICs”. Not only is this unfair, but it’s a wonderful example of how laws are passed to benefit the individual at the expense of the common good.

But, it gets far worse. Who exactly are the legislatures? Democracy in the “Form Nation” of today is controlled by two private clubs. You will recognize them as the Democratic and Republican parties. Not only are they private clubs, but they have the intellectual dishonesty to rely on public funding for their existence. Their job is to campaign and to stay in power. Why? Because they will profit from being power. Those of you who have seen the Movie Chicago will remember Mama Morton singing “reciprocity“.

If you have the money you can get the ear of a Congressman. If you don’t you can’t. If you are the mutual fund industry you can lobby to get the PFIC laws passed. If you are the Romney’s of the world (and I still believe Romney would have been a better president) you can lobby to get your “carried interest” laws passed. As Fareed Zakaria has noted, the system is corrupt at it’s core. A large part of the problem is the way the political system works in the United States. There is nobody who represents the voters. The elected representatives (and they are not really elections because of a lack of choice on the ballot) are in business for themselves. Their business is in passing laws that benefit themselves or their clients. This is the only reason that the IRC and regs grew to 17,000 pages. To put it simply: elected representatives are in the business of making laws.

It’s laws, laws and more laws!

The United States of today is burdened by so many laws that:

– everybody is in violation of some law (show me the man and I will show you the crime);

– the complexity of the laws means that people cannot even understand what they are required to do (the FBAR rules are a weird combination of the enabling statute, the regs and the form itself);

there are fewer and fewer laws where “mens rea” (the intent to commit the crime) is necessary for a conviction;

– people are forced to pay lawyers for an opinion on what they may be required to do (lawyers have become the modern day “priests”);

– the sheer volume of laws means that enforcement is largely discretionary (will the IRS enforce FBAR penalties or not?);

– the focus on laws leads to a presumption of criminality (the fact that US citizens abroad are subject to so many laws means they must be guilty of something);

– the moral foundation (if any) of the law becomes irrelevant. The original purpose of the law becomes irrelevant. All that matters is the mechanical application of the law. Nobody ever imagined that PFIC rules, Foreign Trust rules or the FBAR rules would be used to unleash a “reign of terror” on US citizens abroad. On the “Homelander Front”, do you really believe that Martha Stewart deserved incarceration? Of course, the good old USA has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Laws have become a replacement for morality. Laws are the only standard for morality.

If you are not in violation of the law, you are not immoral.

If you are in violation of the law you are immoral.

(If the U.S. is really concerned about the “crime rate” then maybe it should reduce the number of laws.)

Conclusion: The US does not have laws that are fair.

“Form Nation” – A country governed by those who decide when to apply the laws and in relation to whom! (A government of tyrants)

In the context of the laws, the laws are not applied equally

President Obama commented that Mr. Geithner should not be punished for a mistake commonly made. It was okay for Timothy Geithner, a man with the money to get accurate tax advice, to file inaccurate tax returns. It is NOT okay for US citizens abroad to fail to file or to file inaccurate tax returns.

Conclusion: The US does NOT have fair application of the law.

1. The United States of today is country where laws are passed by members of private clubs, which have no incentive to benefit the common good and every incentive to benefit themselves at the expense of the common good.

2. The laws are so numerous that every person in the United States is in violation of something.

3. The laws that passed carry no presumption of morality and simply have no moral force.

4. The laws (regardless of content) are enforced in an unpredictable and unfair way.

The result is that people live in terror of the government.

As Jefferson said:

When people fear the government there is tyranny. When government fears the people there is liberty.

So, what’s all this got to do with #FATCA and the Mopsick post?

FATCA is the “gift that keeps on giving” (well to the compliance industry that is). As Mr. Mopsick confirms, the concern of the industry in on the fact of the law. What does it say? What does it require? As Mr. Mopsick reports:

Many readers of this blog will be disappointed to hear this report. The people around the world who stand to profit from FATCA are not thinking much about government intrusions into the private lives of the world citizens. That is the furthest thing from their minds. These folks were all good students, in effect, knowing full-well that there was a new body of rules and regulations on the table which they needed to learn and master.

The implication is that the “good students”, those “hard-working, serious, responsible business men and women who were on their way up in their companies”, the “best and the brightest” (are they really that bright?) should be concerned with embracing the new morality, getting in tune with the “new world” caring about the implications of their conduct. That’s exactly what happens when law becomes a substitute for morality. Just Me compares this mentality to another time in history when he notes that:

I can think of other examples of so called free enterprise ~70 years ago, where other“hard-working, serious, responsible business men and women who were on their way up in their companies” were probably attending conferences on how to ramp up manufacturing and supply of cattle cars for another freight train in another era that he would not be so willing to celebrate. He would not like that comparison, and maybe it is a bit hyperbolic, but the same human nature principle is at work.

Interesting analogy. What is the purpose of FATCA? What are the moral underpinnings of FATCA? Has anybody ever asked the question? Clearly nobody in the world of the FATCA compliance industry. They would be afraid of the answer!

But, that’s what happens when law becomes a substitute for morality. Many of you are concerned about what reason to give for renouncing your U.S. citizenship.

Why not just say:

I do not wish to be a citizen of a country where law has become a substitute for fairness and morality!
 

TOMORROW : Burning Barns Down is not Wrong Because it is Illegal – It is Illegal Because it is Wrong