Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Honest and dishonest tax cheats.

"The drive to prove that no one owes income taxes is not a libertarian cause. It does nothing to show people that government programs hurt, rather than help, America. By trying to focus on legalisms, it does nothing to show that government shouldn't be taxing your income."
--Harry Browne, Jail Bait

I've been asked several times why, given that I generally support reducing tax rates, the number of taxes, and the government's power to tax, I show such antipathy to tax resisters and tax protesters individually and as a movement.

It would pay, first, to distinguish between the two. Tax resisters are those who honestly refuse to pay some or all of the taxes they admittedly owe the government. Tax protesters, on the other hand, devise and advance crackpot legal theories claiming that either they personally or nobody owes income tax.

The question of when civil disobedience is appropriate has always been one of shades of grey, and , I suspect, of taste. Rule of law is the foundation of free society; clearly we can't decide for ourselves all of the time which laws to obey and which obligations to meet. Yet clearly we should also not obey every law and meet every obligation no matter how unjust or burdensome. There are people, however wrongheaded, who believe in good faith that taxation is theft. (Not "like theft" or "sometimes theft", mind you, but always, exactly, categorically, theft.) And then there are those who refuse their taxes out of opposition to wars of aggression or the War on Drugs.

Both sorts strike me as hypochondriacs; I remain unconvinced that taxation itself is so great a burden or that the little bit spent on war is so great a portion to justify flouting not just law but rule of law itself, especially in light of tax resistance never making a significant difference. Nonetheless, I appreciate their position and understand its honesty.

Tax protesters, however, come in two flavors: charlatans and suckers. Since nobody likes admitting to being a sucker, the latter usually become the former when pressed about their beliefs. To top it off, they ordinarily become downright rude, namecalling, engaging in personal attacks, and insisting that, instead of referring them to sources, the person who bursts their bubble spell everything out, explicitly, themselves. Ordinarily decent people become outright jackasses when called on their tax protest theories. Maybe they feel like cornered cats. I don't know.

It's nearly impossible to scam an honest man. As with most con games those advancing tax protester theories prey on the greed of their mark, including a desire to be special and be exempt from an obligation the rest of us pleebs and pedestrians have to pay. Thus the tax protest advocates convince people of things no reasonable person in complete intellectual honesty could believe, from a Matrix-like demiurge fantasy about capital-letter, SSN-indexed straw men, redeemable for cash to a belief that the everyday meaning of the word "income" doesn't apply to the internal revenue code. They lead people to believe numerous twisty, unlikely arguments more suited to weasels than to men, and convince them of these things even though the IRS and many private individuals and groups have debunked nearly every bogus argument being advanced. They've lead people astray who've wanted to be led astray.

There's the sad part. People who recognize that taxes are too high and that we were once far freer than we are now are being led to ruin their reputations, discredit their causes, destroy their finances, and face prison time by those presenting the false hope of achieving freedom from taxation, at least for themselves, through word magic. The victims are greedy and dishonest, yes, but ruination is not a fair comeuppance.

Not only must liberty and a $0 tax bill never be confounded: one must also never get so foolish as to believe that there's a way to say "Open Sesame" and have an instant free society. The changes we are due will come slowly and through much struggle both at the polls and in the court of public opinion. By leading people with the right instincts about government astray and perpetuating myths about the natures of liberty and positive law, tax protesters undermine that effort.

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