A Law Unto Itself (Magill Book Reviews)
In the 1970’s, David Burnham became widely known for exposing corruption in the New York City police department. In 1983, his book THE RISE OF THE COMPUTER STATE explored the effect of computerized bureaucracies on representative democracy. With A LAW UNTO ITSELF, he examines an influential and increasingly computerized law enforcement institution the is also vested with extraordinary powers.
Authorized to level civil suits against alleged wrongdoers, the IRS may also initiate criminal suits in which the burden of proof lies with the accused. If the agency suspects that an individual may take drastic action to evade payments, it can seize property without seeking prior authorization from a judge. It has access to a staggering amount of information that can be gleaned from more than a billion documents as well as other sources. It also exercises discretion over that assignment of tax-exempt status to charitable organizations.
Over the course of his book, Burnham describes numerous occasions when such daunting powers appear to have been misused. Some cases, such as an instance in which a computer harassed taxpayers despite court injunctions barring such action, can be attributed to mismanagement and institutional inertia. Others, such as decades of collaboration between a wealthy Pennsylvania family’s tax preparers and tax agents eager to accept their bribes, point to serious corruption. Still others illustrate the propensity of a wide range...
(The entire section is 348 words.)
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A Law Unto Itself (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
One of the United States’ most respected investigative journalists, David Burnham has long devoted himself to exploring the nation’s most complex and powerful institutions. As a reporter for The New York Times in the 1970’s, he exposed corruption in the New York City Police Department and thereby triggered significant reform. His subsequent probes into the nuclear industry and, in The Rise of the Computer State (1983), the effects of computerization on American democracy, bear witness to his ongoing concern that fundamental freedoms and rights may be threatened as bureaucracies and technologies develop to a degree unimagined in the earliest days of the nation.
Certainly the Founding Fathers could not have anticipated the tremendous growth of the Internal Revenue Service in the decades following World War II. A survey of American tax history in the opening chapter of A Law Unto Itself: Power, Politics, and the IRS establishes that, with few exceptions, federal taxation activity was extremely limited prior to the Civil War. In 1862 the Office of the Commissioner of Revenue, created along with the first income tax, became a fixture in the federal system. Constitutionally questionable, the tax itself flickered in and out of existence until 1913, when the Sixteenth Amendment authorized Congress “to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any...
(The entire section is 1846 words.)