Monitoring Bank Accounts Would Make the People of the Government, Not the Government of the People

November 1, 2021 Updated: November 4, 2021


Of politicians in power, it might be said, “By their proposals, shall ye know them.”

What they say they want to do is almost as significant as what they actually succeed in doing, for it offers an insight into their fundamental philosophy or state of mind. Of course, this is especially important when they seek to cling to power by reelection or by some other means, such as behind-the-scenes influence.

That’s why the proposal that the IRS should have access to the data of all bank accounts from which or into which more than $600 per year is paid (hardly a king’s ransom) is so important, despite the fact that it hasn’t been enacted. The very fact that someone wanted to enact it, and thought it right that it should be enacted, is highly significant—and sinister—in itself, for the proposal demonstrates a totalitarian mindset.

The ostensible purpose of the proposal, of course, is the elimination of tax evasion. Incidentally, I’ve noticed recently an increasing tendency, in the press and elsewhere, for the term tax avoidance to be used interchangeably with tax evasion, as if the difference between legality and illegality were of no real importance. This conflation is itself indicative of a totalitarian attitude, according to which a governmental end may be reached without the necessity for any law.

The people who proposed that, in effect, every bank account should be routinely available for examination by the IRS, without any specific warrant for such an examination, thereby revealed that they thought that the gathering of taxes was so important that it superseded all other considerations.

Psalm 24 begins: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.”

According to the proposers, a better version would be: Money is the government’s, and the fulness thereof, money and they that have any. For it hath founded it upon the printing press and established it as legal tender.

I don’t go as far as some economists of my acquaintance who believe that tax evasion is a citizen’s civic duty: at least it isn’t in the circumstances prevailing in any Western country, however unsatisfactory they may be. In my own case, I don’t evade taxes, and even my attempts to avoid them are rather feeble, for unfortunately there’s so little at stake.

But I completely reject the idea that, morally, the first call on anyone’s money is the government’s, which in effect has the right to leave you pocket money by its grace and favor after you’ve paid your taxes at any rate that it likes. This is the very tyranny that the founders of the United States feared in a majoritarian democracy, untempered by inalienable rights—inalienable even, or especially, by or to the government.

In some countries in Europe, cash is in the process of disappearing. Among the other conveniences of this change is the fact that it makes the robbery of tills impossible and mugging for money pointless.

But these are surely very minor advantages by comparison with the fact that the replacement of cash by electronic payment makes every last purchase, every last dollar that anyone ever spends, available for inspection by the government. So transparent a world would be a horrible world. It’s stupid nonsense to think that life can or should be lived entirely in the open.

So what, you may ask? You’ve nothing to hide. You live a completely upright life. You don’t spend money on child pornography or drugs or anything like that. You’re a loving spouse and an excellent parent. You do good works, and you’re thoroughly honest in your business dealings.

Why not, then, place video cameras in every room to check that everyone in them is behaving well and treating each other with proper respect? Only the bad have anything to fear. This would surely prevent many harmful situations from developing and allow for early intervention by authorities before anyone was hurt.

Together with the monitoring of your purchases, your habits could be supervised, and—for example—nutritionists could intervene to suggest, and possibly enforce, this month’s healthiest diet according to the latest research.

Your credit card could be blocked from making certain purchases—too much junk food, for example. Your life expectancy would be increased thereby. There’s no end to the possible advantages of total surveillance of a population that’s otherwise liable to do the wrong thing and not even behave in its own best interests.

This is the world that certain politicians, enamored with their own wisdom, competence, knowledge, and benevolence, would like, and the monitoring of all bank accounts would be the first step toward it.

Note also that there’s no proposed reciprocation on the part of the government. It isn’t suggesting that every last transaction of a public authority should be constantly open to citizens so that they can summarily charge public employees with waste and dereliction of duty—in which case, given man’s imperfectability and weakness of will, very few would remain in office after a week.

No, all of the obligation falls on the citizens, not the government. It’s as if, in criminal trials, the accused was assumed to be guilty and had to prove his innocence beyond all reasonable doubt.

The proposal for the IRS to be permitted to monitor all bank accounts indicates that, in the minds of at least some in government, the people are a people of the government, by the government, and for the government. At the very least, this is collectivist and, indeed, totalitarian.

The fundamental direction of duty now flows from people to the government, not from government to people. I’m reminded of Bertolt Brecht’s famous satirical poem (not that Brecht was himself any great friend of freedom) about the uprising in 1953 in East Germany against communist rule:

“After the uprising of the 17th of June

The Secretary of the Writers’ Union

Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee

Stating that the people

Had forfeited the confidence of the government

And could only win it back

By increased work quotas.

Would it not in that case be simpler for the government

To dissolve the government

And elect another?”

Some in government have evidently read this poem and taken it not as satire, but as a blueprint.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Theodore Dalrymple is a retired doctor. He is contributing editor of the City Journal of New York and the author of 30 books, including “Life at the Bottom.” His latest book is “Embargo and Other Stories.”