There are better ways to start the week than to walk down to the mailbox on a Monday morning and find a letter bearing the return address “Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigation Division.”
The whole ghastly business had its origins in a desire to do the right thing by Uncle Sam. One day in August 2009, my wife noticed a small news item in the Seattle Times which announced that the IRS had settled its civil suit with UBS, the Swiss global financial-services company. At issue was the identity of some 52,000 American customers of UBS, who were said to have hidden $21 billion in what the U.S. government termed “otherwise problematic” assets, making an average of around $400,000 per customer. I wish I had such problems. According to the newspaper, the IRS was now to offer a 30-day “Voluntary Disclosure Program” or “Full Amnesty” for U.S. taxpayers to come clean about any overseas holdings or accounts they might somehow have previously failed to mention. (Readers may note that the government offers a variety of definitions of the word amnesty as it applies in different circumstances, and that the Treasury Department might not understand the term in the same sense as, for instance, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.)
“Could that mean you?” my wife asked.
I confess I...