Living More with Less (But Not Necessarily That Much Less)

, I ran a war tax resistance information booth at the “Living More With Less” voluntary simplicity conference in Oakland. It was a good conference — articulate and entertaining speakers and an overall lack of the sort of granola-talk that often turns Bay Area events like these into real eye-rollers.

Many people showed interest in tax resistance and came up to ask questions or to browse our literature. One of our pamphlets, “Low Income / Simple Living as War Tax Resistance” from NWTRCC, was especially popular. Alas, it’s also dated. It doesn’t mention things like Health Savings Accounts, or even IRAs, and tends on the whole to make this form of tax resistance seem excessively renunciatory and difficult.

Speaking of which, here’s a bit from the opening paragraph of a new article about activist Kathy Kelly from the Boise Weekly:

At age 52 — an age when many activists of her generation have moved toward the mainstream — Kathy Kelly has retained her radical ideals. As a pacifist and “war tax refuser,” Kelly hasn’t paid income taxes in . (To that end, she has tried to keep her income below the taxable level of $3,000 per year.) Her reasoning: “In the face of weapon proliferation, war making and environmental degradation, I think we each face a moral imperative not to collaborate with crimes we don’t condone.”

$3,000! If that were really what it took to do tax resistance this way, I’d find some other method. Articles like these can do as much harm as good by on the one hand giving an inspiring example of tax resistance and on the other hand making it seem like some frightening martyrdom and daunting sacrifice.

The war tax resistance movement is guilty of contributing to this impression. Its literature universally makes this path seem more difficult than it is, and its representatives frequently repeat the misinformation about how you have to live below the poverty line to live below the tax line. For example, here’s Ruth Benn of NWTRCC, writing in the latest The Nonviolent Activist:

…Others feel in their hearts that the important thing is to keep the money away from the war machine, and if it means living on less than $8,200 a year (for single people in ), then that is the point.…

It is going to take a lot of work, apparently, to get the word out that this form of tax resistance isn’t only for the vow-of-poverty set.