Can You Beat a Government by Appealing to a Bigger Government?

One way to win a tax resistance campaign against a government that is stubbornly trying to squeeze money out of you is to appeal to an even bigger, badder government to take your side. Here are some examples of campaigns that have attempted this.

  • In in Bolivia, a Jehovah’s Witness named Alfredo Díaz Bustos was drafted into the military and claimed conscientious objector status. The authorities, recognizing no conscientious objector exemption, granted him an exemption certificate that classified him as unqualified for service, but demanded in exchange a special “military tax.” Bustos then appealed to international law, in this case to the American Convention on Human Rights, saying he should not have to pay a tax to exercise an internationally recognized human right. Incredibly, it worked! The government of Bolivia backed down and released Bustos from any obligation either to serve in the military or to pay the exemption tax.
  • A number of European war tax resisters have tried to bring cases before multi-national bodies there in the hopes of getting conscientious objection to military taxation recognized as a human right that governments must respect. For instance Roy Prockter is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.
  • In some Quaker and Baptist officials in Massachusetts refused to collect tithes that were for the support of Puritan ministers, and were imprisoned for it. They appealed to the King of England, who rescinded the tax and instructed the Massachusetts Assembly to free the resisting nonconformists.
  • The Addio Pizzo movement in Italy cooperates with the above-ground government there in its resistance campaign against mafia extortion schemes. The police in Palermo “have agreed to discreetly look after the member shops” that conspicuously sell only goods from manufacturers who refuse to pay the pizzo mafia tax. The police have also arrested some mafia leaders, and offer to defend people who have been threatened by mafia reprisals.
  • In , saloon keepers in New York City enlisted the cooperation of the local government in their attempts to resist the payment of police shakedown money. In the shakedowns, the police would threaten to have the saloon keepers prosecuted on real or fanciful charges if they didn’t cough up bribes. To resist this, the New York County Liquor Dealers Association teamed up with the local District Attorney, the Police Commissioner, and the Society for the Prevention of Crime. The city agreed to waive fines against saloon owners who were prosecuted after failing to pay police protection money, thus making ineffective that common and effective police threat.
  • White Americans living in Muscogee (Creek) territory before Oklahoma became a state in resisted paying taxes to the Creek Nation government, hoping the federal government would back them up if push came to shove. And in fact the federal government abolished the tax (and the independent Muscogee governments) shortly before Oklahoma statehood.
  • People from the United States who had set up shop in the Isle of Pines, south of Cuba, in the hopes that the United States would keep the island for itself after wresting it from Spain were disappointed when the newly independent Cuba asserted sovereignty and started to tax them. In they declared that they would refuse to pay, and would defend themselves against Cuban tax collectors with force if need be — and they appealed to the United States to reclaim their island from the Cubans. Nothing doing, said the U.S. Secretary of State.