Modern Quakers on Voluntary Simplicity and Tax Resistance

The latest issue of Friends Journal has some articles on people who voluntarily live on a low income, for reasons that include tax resistance. Here are some excerpts:

Seres Kyrie writes:

For the past ten years my husband and I (and later, our two children) have subsisted on an income of less than $25,000 per year. How is this possible? We wouldn’t have it any other way.

We’ve chosen this social class; each of us has an advanced degree and could be making more as a full-time teacher. As is, we both juggle a handful of under- and over-the-table gigs. With a constant query of peace and justice in this lifetime, we’ve continually drawn parallels between misuse of power and an excess of money. 1 Timothy 6:10 states: “For the love of money is the root of all evils.” Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Like many of our generation, we’ve been gravely affected by the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan and are concerned about the mis-distribution of tax money toward military spending. My husband was deployed with the Wisconsin National Guard in , and neither of us has had the same worldview since. Who has benefited from these military conflicts? Surely the Iraqi people have not benefited, nor have our American veterans. The American people too have suffered in the war’s wake. Only an elite few, with investments in weaponry, oil, and contracting have possibly improved their (worldly) situation.

According to the War Resisters League, the United States federal budget allotted 47 percent of our income taxes (about $1,334 billion) to past and present military spending. This is a gross misuse of funds; the money would be better spent on a peace division, education, or health care. Our conviction is strong that war taxes should be resisted. Instead of not paying our due taxes in an act of civil disobedience, however, we followed the simplest path of tax resistance: not making enough to have to pay any blood money at all.

And Chuck Hosking writes:

Over the years, many people have expressed to me an intention to simplify their lives. In nearly every case, those intentions appeared to be grounded in either a litany of “shoulds” or a reluctant resignation to making a sacrifice to assuage an untenable level of ethical dissonance. In my experience, neither impetus is sustainable.…

When I speak to groups about downward mobility, someone usually commends me for my willingness to sacrifice. Once again, I flinch. It’s no sacrifice to eschew something you never wanted in the first place. Unless one’s heart embraces a simpler lifestyle, it will not be sustainable. And unless we’re religious flagellants, our hearts won’t desire simplicity as long as we consider it a sacrifice

Jesus wants the best for his followers, not the inferior and soul-eroding “best” that our culture panders. He wants us to have a lean and robust faith, not the flabby faith and vacuous values of a superficial life. The path that Jesus modeled for us is not a hair shirt of misery. He embraced voluntary poverty because he knew it to be the best sustenance for a healthy soul. When something is best, it’s no sacrifice to embrace it, and no “shoulds” are needed to prompt us to the task.

So how am I doing? Not very well, I’m afraid. When my wife and I wed in and set out to center our lives on pursuing global equity (having observed that a large percentage of the world’s problems seem to stem ultimately from global wealth disparity), we knew our path would be considered societally insane by mainstream U.S. culture. But, embracing the concept of the priesthood of all believers, we felt the Christian path was the best for our souls. When Mary Ann died in , I accepted the challenge to live for both of us and attempted to venture deeper into the global equity realm. So I downsized further, and for the past five years have lived on $5 a day for all my expenses, giving away the rest of my income.

That looks pretty good from the perspective of an overdeveloped country like the United States, but in the global context it’s unimpressive. The World Bank says over half of the world’s people live on less than $2 per day. My $5 per day is princely. Moreover, my $25,000 per year income ranks me in the global elite 10 percent, according to the World Bank. And for the last 30 years, in order to avoid paying federal income tax (since about half of it funds militarism, regardless of who is in the White House), I’ve deposited money into retirement accounts amounting to enough to cover all my living expenses for over a century! (To avoid federal tax, I will postpone giving this money away — to projects that promote global equity — until I am 70-and-a-half in .) So despite my lofty aspirations, I seem to have a pecuniary penchant.

An editorial summing up the Rebeccaite rebellion (on the assumption that it was at its end) in the Cambrian on included this detail:

The only fault to be found with the Commissioners [investigating the toll gate grievances in Wales] is, that they do not always remain at a town long enough to give the farmers of the neighbourhood an opportunity of coming before them. We have remarked, that several times when the Commissioners were departing from a place, after a very short visit, numbers of people from a distance arrived, intending to lay their opinions before them. Their journey was of course fruitless. A little management on the part of the Commissioners would easily prevent such occurrences.