Are Taxpayers Complicit with Government Crimes?

To what extent does paying taxes to the government make you responsible for what the government does?

Responding to a Picket Line post , FSK wrote:

If you pay taxes, you are as responsible for war as the soldier who kills people. If you pay taxes, you are directly responsible for every bad thing government does. Paying taxes is immoral.

On the other hand, John T. Kennedy argued to me:

Paying taxes doesn’t make you a collaborator any more than handing your wallet over to a mugger does.

Over the past few days, I’ve gone back through historical debates about tax resistance to try to understand how both of these extremes — and many points in-between — have been attacked and defended over time.

I underestimated just how much of a project this was going to end up being. I had to take detours into complicated legal and philosophical discussions of complicity and responsibility. I’m still nowhere near done yet. If you’re curious, you can watch me taking notes on a wiki, and you can add comments if you’d care to.



Ruth Benn, NWTRCC’s coordinator, eulogizes Ralph DiGia at the War Resisters League site. Excerpts:

Way back in Ralph asked the board of WRL not to withhold income tax from his pay. He had joined the staff and thus became the first war tax resister on the WRL staff, the first to press the organization to take a stand against cooperating with the IRS. It wasn’t until , after various collection efforts and a court case, that the IRS took money from WRL’s bank account for four years of Ralph’s many years of refusal to pay war taxes.

WRL has promoted tax day actions for years and handing out pie charts at the IRS office in Manhattan was an occasion Ralph rarely missed. He loved leafleting and would be there whether the action was large or small. In recent years he couldn’t stand up the whole time, but he’d sit on a big cement planter at the edge of the sidewalk near the IRS offering out the pie chart to anyone who would take it. In recent years he looked forward to going even more because one of the IRS employees made a special effort to come out and greet Ralph’s arrival each year. They’d have a good chat before returning to their respective posts.


David Z. responds to my criticism of his dismissal of war tax resistance at …no third solution. Excerpts:

If you really think that by making yourself worse-off, you can wean the State from its violent cycle, by all means go for it. I just don’t think it works.

Almost every transaction in which you participate is taxable, so as long as you spend those notes you’re simply choosing a different form of taxation! If withholding $17.76 from your tax return this year makes it easier to sleep at night, by all means, do it. But don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re going to stop the State by so doing. If you’re withholding your taxes, you’re not going far enough.

I think victory is freedom from the State. Symbolically fighting the State with its own laws isn’t going to get anyone very far because it’s only possible to de-fund the government if it were using legitimate currency, which it is not. And even if it were, there simply aren’t enough tax protesters in existence to starve the State by withholding some nominal sum, and therefore their efforts are misguided.

The principal argument, though, is that you can’t de-fund Leviathan by withholding from the State the very fiat money the creation of which it controls! Because the government operates on monopoly money backed only by the people’s general faith in that fiction, I understand that the only way to bring down the system is to stop having faith in that fiction, to stop using that money, and to practice counter-economics. There probably are enough resisters to begin a counter-economy, which has greater chance at succeeding, if you define success as “freedom from the State.”

I think we probably agree more than we disagree when it comes right down to it, but I’m too impatient to wait for the perfect solution. I’m eager to start right now with less-perfect but still practical solutions, hoping that although “there simply aren’t enough” of us to defund the government right now, thanks to me there’s one more than there used to be, and in order for that “enough” to ever come about, people like me will have to decide, one-by-one, to be the next not-yet-enough one.


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