What does Venezuela’s desire to adopt a totally cashless society and the Biden administration’s plan to require banks to report all transactions over $600 to the IRS have in common? They are both about establishing government control over our finances and diminishing personal privacy.
The Biden administration believes that requiring banks to report all transactions over $600 to the government would reduce income tax evasion. However, the IRS can already gather all the financial information it may need for an audit without adding this cumbersome requirement. If instituted, the compliance costs to report all transactions over $600 will be enormous and the reporting process will be a bureaucratic nightmare.
In addition to the compliance costs, which would drive up the fees charged by banking institutions, the privacy implications are alarming. The IRS would have access to information about any banking transaction exceeding $600. If you’re withdrawing a few thousand dollars to purchase a used car, the government will know about it. If you received a thousand dollars in wedding gifts, the government will know about it (and try to tax it). If you spend $600 to attend a protest event, the government will know about it. Even if you move money from one account to another, not only will the government know about it, it would also likely trigger an IRS audit. There is no telling what the government will ultimately do with the information they collect about individual spending, saving, and earning habits.
It is all but certain the reporting of transactions over $600 will be reported electronically. Not only will the government have unconstrained access to most people’s financial activities, but so will hackers and other nefarious actors. Considering the increasing number of data breeches against supposedly secure credit card transaction and personal information, it is inevitable that individual financial data will be leaked. This data provides a treasure trove of information that may be used by criminals. Under this proposal, not only will bureaucrats in Washington have access to your private information, but so will criminals in China, Russia, and the rest of Eastern Europe.
This idea seems to always turn up like a bad penny anytime Democrats engage in a federal spending binge. In 2010, as part of the so-called Affordable Care Act, Democrats wanted small business owners to submit a 1099 form to any vendor with whom they spent $600 or more in a calendar year. This would have meant, for example, that a company which ordered a few cases of printer paper and pencils from Staples would have to send them a 1099 form at the end of the year. Companies whose employees stayed at a Sheraton Hotel on a business trip would have had to send Sheraton a 1099 form (for each separate location). The list goes on and on.
Had a few sane legislators not noticed this insertion into a massive spending bill, and had not small business owners lobbied against this, every small business owner would have been saddled with huge paperwork requirements and thousands of dollars in additional accounting costs. The costs to comply with the proposed dictates would have dwarfed the small amount of additional taxes collected by the IRS as a result of these requirements.
Democrats seem to have a fixation with the $600 number. That was their preference in 2010, and it has appeared again this year. They believe that infringing upon the financial privacy of Americans is a small price to pay in order to fund their vote-buying programs. They also totally ignore the costs of maintaining compliance, and the fact that such costs will be passed down to all users of banking services. If inflation wasn’t already bad enough with gasoline prices more than a dollar per gallon expensive than it was a year ago, this bill will surely send inflation spiraling out of control.
What does this have to do with Venezuela? Ever since the Venezuelans elected a socialist government, which shortly became a dictatorship, inflation has skyrocketed. Even their currency could not keep up with the rate of inflation. Before Hugo Chávez became president, the Venezuelan bolivar typically traded at 3 to 4 bolivars to one United States dollar. Even after several currency reevaluations, it now takes 4,146,022 bolivars to purchase a single U.S. dollar.
Venezuela can not print currency fast enough to keep up with their rate of inflation. Their largest denomination bank note, 50,000 bolivars, is now only worth a couple of cents in United States currency. Bank notes are often obsolete even before they enter circulation. Because of the huge inflation rate, bank notes are rarely used in commerce, and coins have completely disappeared from circulation.
In light of this, Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro has announced plans to abolish physical cash and go to an entirely cashless society. In a cashless society, all transactions are electronically recorded and available to the government upon request. This allows the government to track the finances and transactions of specific individuals and to limit the places in which money may be spent. If, for example, an opposition party is attempting to raise funds to challenge the incumbent government, the dictatorship could prevent any funds from being used for this purpose. It will be impossible to purchase books, artwork, newspapers, or anything else not approved by the government. Electronic records of all financial transactions is the secret police force’s best friend.
Will the proposed reporting requirements in the United States be as intrusive as those used by Venezuela? Not immediately. However, we must remember the Patriot Act was ostensibly created to thwart international terrorists. Yet, its use of secret warrants and indictments has been employed more often to prosecute crimes within the United States, rather than foreign terrorists. The Internal Revenue Service has been used, not only to collect taxes, but to target political organizations opposing the incumbent administration. And while the FBI has not yet become as much of a political secret police force as Venezuela’s Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional, it has many times exceeded its authority to achieve political aims. Granting the government another excuse to spy upon its citizens’ economic transactions does not bode well for the future of liberty.
Will those determined to evade United States taxation be thwarted by the bank reporting requirements? For the most part, no. Those with large resources will begin conducting transactions using unregulated cyber currencies, tangible metals (silver and gold), and sophisticated barter systems. They will remove themselves from the United States fiat currency system. In fact, the bank reporting requirements may result in a reduction to tax collection by driving many economic transactions underground.
The real victims of the proposed reporting requirements will likely be middle-class wage earners and small-business owners. The government will use the data collected to harass (often innocent) citizens through intrusive audits and civil forfeiture provisions. Even citizens who innocently moved money from one account to another may find themselves bullied by zealous IRS agents or local police forces hungry for the proceeds of civil forfeiture.
And all this damage is being done so the Democratic administration can attempt to buy votes by dramatically expanding social and spending programs. It’s hardly a good bargain.