Wrestling's newest villain is (no kidding) IRS

Edwin Feulner

September 11, 1992|By Edwin Feulner

IF YOU really want to get a feel for America's political pulse, forget Gallup and Harris and those high-priced media consultants and turn to the TV channel that broadcasts wrestling.

First, you need to understand that what you are watching is not an athletic contest, but a morality play: good versus evil.

Unlike the lumbering bureaucracy of government, wrestling adapts quickly to political crises. Thus, during the Iranian hostage crisis, the baddest of the bad guys on the wrestling circuit was the Iranian-flag-waving Iron Sheik from Tehran. Because the hostage crisis occurred during the coldest days of the Cold War, the Iron Sheik frequently teamed up with the sneering, hammer-and-sickle-flag-waving Count Nikolai Volkoff, hometown Moscow, U.S.S.R.

But the hostages came home, the Soviet Union fell apart and Americans in droves turned their attention to domestic issues. So today one of wrestling's chief villains is one Irwin R. Schyster -- better known as IRS.

Introduced to the world of the square ring just months ago, IRS was an instant success. Many of the other bad guys on the wrestling circuit are stomp-you-into-the-ground direct about their intentions. But IRS wears eyeglasses, dresses in a suit and tie, and carries a briefcase -- just the kind of guy you see every day pushing paper in Washington.

What the world of wrestling is telling us is that to the average wage-earner in Bayonne or Tupelo, the Washington bureaucrat has become a symbol of all that is wrong with America. That's the reality politicians face this fall.

It's not hard to understand why, and it's not just the check-kiting scandal: It's the fact that despite all our problems, Washington continues with business as usual, spending other people's money as if it didn't matter.

Maybe the anger wouldn't be so virulent if taxpayers actually felt they got something for their "investment" in government.

Alas, what they get are programs like the federal helium reserve, a $121-million boondoggle initiated in 1929 to provide a lift to the blimp industry.

Which brings us to the IRS -- the agency, not the wrestler. According to tax economist James L. Payne of Lytton Research and Analysis of Sandpoint, Idaho, every dollar the IRS collects in taxes costs the economy $1.65. Unofficial costs include the time we spend keeping records and filling out forms, lawyers' and accountants' fees and the drain on the economy caused by diverting productive resources to tax compliance -- and evasion. Merely complying with federal tax laws is so labor-intensive, Mr. Payne found, that it takes the equivalent of nearly three million people working full-time year-round to review and fill out all of the IRS paperwork. The damage: $600 billion a year, more than twice as much as defense and six times the cost of Medicare.

In the post-Soviet era, Count Nikolai Volkoff couldn't be a star in the World Wrestling Federation. He'd be a big yawn. But not Irwin R. Schyster. In today's political climate, IRS has become one of the grunters wrestling fans most love to hate.

Edwin J. Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington.

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