According to Webster’s dictionary, one of the definitions of license is “ A permission granted by competent authority to engage in a business or occupation or in an activity otherwise unlawful”. Irrespective that the term “competent authority” should exclude the government from doing any licensing whatsoever, the suggestion is that a governmental agency, for the protection of the populace, assesses the quality of a person or entity to perform a task or occupation.
On the surface, such a process seems intuitively beneficial. We don’t want people running around, willy nilly, doing things that they have no competency in doing, potentially at great harm to others. However, if this rationale is true, why in the world must one obtain a license to pay tax?
As a physician engaging in the entrepreneurial activity of starting a Direct Primary Care practice, I have enjoyed the complexity of navigating our bureaucratic system of commerce regulation. Doing so, I have been struck by the numerous obstacles placed in the way of those attempting to innovate and improve our system or simply start a new business. As Direct Primary Care doctors, we are looking for ways to improve care and decrease costs for our patients.
One common obstacle for patients is the cost of diabetic test supplies. These items become costly when run through insurance and physicians are required to go through extensive, time wasting authorization processes. You can understand my excitement when I realized that I could purchase glucose monitors for $2.50 and the test strips for $0.15 per test. Unable to afford your diabetic test supplies? Problem solved!
Not so fast! As these are medical supplies, I needed to account for sales tax. “No problem” I figured. I would simply add 6% on to the sale price to pay that tax. Just a small bump in the road, but we can do that. However, I learned that as with all things governmental, it couldn’t be so simple. I had to obtain a license to pay this tax.
This is when my jaw hit the floor. A license to pay tax. Let me say that again…. I had to get a license… to pay tax! How crazy is this notion?
Was I incompetent to pay tax? Would paying such a tax without a license be “unlawful”. Is the requirement for obtaining a license to pay tax to prevent those who are incompetent in paying taxes from paying taxes? If I am incompetent to pay tax would that absolve me from having to pay the tax or would it preclude me from engaging in entrepreneurial activities? What would happen if I decided to pay tax anyway, without a license (gasp!)? Would it be breaking the law to pay tax without a license to pay tax? Is it worse to pay tax without a license than to fail to pay the tax at all? Would I be fined for having paid tax? Would I need a license to pay the fine? What happened if I kept paying tax? Would I be imprisoned for failing to stop sending my money to the government without a license to do so? Admittedly the process was fairly simple, but the sheer exercise seemed to be a futile, wasteful one.
Our system is broken. I see no better example of that than the necessity to petition the government for the permission to pay the government money. However in this one encapsulation, I believe that we see the bubbling discontent and one microcosm of why it exists.
Photo by 401(K) 2013