05/06/2015 06:19 PM ET
Does Al Sharpton's community organizing exempt him from complying with federal tax law? View Enlarged Image
Why did Rome and Byzantium fall apart after centuries of success? What causes civilizations to collapse, from a dysfunctional 4th-century-B.C. Athens to contemporary bankrupt Greece?
The answer is usually not enemies at the gates, but the pathologies inside them.
What ruins societies is well known: too much consumption and not enough production, a debased currency and endemic corruption.
Americans currently deal with all those symptoms. But two more fundamental causes for decline are even more frightening: an unwillingness to pay taxes and the end of the rule of law.
Al Sharpton is again prominently in the news, blaming various groups for the Baltimore unrest. But Sharpton currently owes the U.S. government more than $3 million in back taxes, according to reports. His excuses have ranged from insufficient funds to pay them to sloppy record-keeping and mysterious fires.
Sharpton, a frequent White House guest, apparently assumes that his community-organizing provides him political exemption from federal tax law. He seems to be right, at least as long as the current administration is in power.
The Clinton Foundation is expected to refile its tax returns for 2010, 2011 and 2012 after failing to separate government grants from donations. If an average citizen tried to amend his taxes for such huge sums and from that long ago, he would probably be under indictment.
News reports of undocumented donations from foreign governments caught the foundation underreporting its income. The well-connected Clinton clan apparently assumed that their political status ensured them immunity.
In the current political landscape, ideology also offers cover for tax noncompliance. Two of the most liberal talking heads at the MSNBC cable news network, Toure Neblett and Melissa Harris-Perry, known for their advocacy of higher tax rates on the affluent, turn out to be both quite well off and quite unwilling to pay their fair share of taxes. Reports indicate that Neblett and Harris-Perry both owe more than $50,000 in delinquent taxes.
Who will police the tax police?
Former IRS official Lois Lerner and her subordinates were found to have targeted conservative nonprofit groups for excessive federal scrutiny. While testifying before Congress, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and investigators later found that two years of her emails had gone missing in a mysterious computer crash. Lerner has not been charged.
Under the current system, the very wealthy have the pull and capital to navigate around the 3.7-million-word IRS tax code. Billionaire George Soros, a proponent of big government and higher taxes, reportedly could face a tax bill of approximately $7 billion after years of deferrals.