Is the Income-Lowering Method of Tax Resistance Phony?

I briefly covered A.J. Muste’s opposition to my tax resistance method. “Voluntarily keeping one’s income down,” he wrote, “does not commend itself to me as a form of tax protest. I do not see how one can in effect recognize that a government may determine one’s standard of living or think that permitting the government to do so constitutes a significant protest against war taxation.”

My response to this was:

Am I letting the government “determine my standard of living” this way? Well, I guess that’s one way of looking at it. But if the alternatives are letting the government declare me an outlaw and seize my property and person by force, or, on the other hand, letting the government declare a percentage of my income its own that it can spend on reprehensible activities… I’ll prefer to let the government determine my standard of living.

Earlier this year, Greg Swann at reconstructed Muste’s argument from an egoist / objectivist foundation. He at times seems to be shouting past his critics rather than debating them, but he has put considerable time and effort into trying to persuade libertarians to give up on what he calls “vanity” tax resistance. Echoing Muste, Swann writes: “Deliberately frustrating your own goals in vengeance against the state seems to me to be enslaving yourself in the name of liberty.”

He notes that tax resisters like myself are only going part-way — not paying the income tax, and maybe an excise tax or two, but still “up to [our] neck[s] in the Kleptocratic quicksand. Property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, fuel taxes, sin taxes and every precious fee down at the Dee-Emm-Vee — all of them paid, freely, voluntarily, even eagerly. On the other side, ‘free’ water, ‘free’ books, ‘free’ roads, ‘free’ bandwidth — all of them lapped up greedily, avidly, without a second thought.”

If you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound. Libertarians choose — freely, explicitly, consciously, repeatedly, happily — to be Good Germans. If they are Scofflaws here or there, this might be a vice. It’s more likely a vanity. But it is not a Rebellion. To implicitly and consistently support Good Germanism when doing so is fruitful, but to explicitly reject the Good German principle when doing so is convenient is specious. If you take the water, you’ll take the war. This is the actual Consent of the Governed. Governments fall when the Good Germans withdraw all of their consent, not just slivers of it. Governments fall when the Good Germans become Rebels. Not before.

(Gandhi, I remember, had the same insight: that you support a government not only by what you give to it, but what you take from it. To the extent that you rely on or are dependent on a government, you help prop it up. He wrote: “there is no State run by Nero or Mussolini which has not good points about it, but we have to reject the whole, once we decide to non-co-operate with the system. ‘There are in our country grand public roads, and palatial educational institutions,’ said I to myself, ‘but they are part of a system which crushes the nation. I should not have anything to do with them. They are like the fabled snake with a brilliant jewel on its head, but which has fangs full of poison.’ So I came to the conclusion that the British rule in India had crushed the spirit of the nation and stunted its growth, and so I decided to deny myself all the privileges, services, courts, titles.”)

Tax resistance is only a “gesture,” Swann writes, and “I think it is vain to suppose that anything will change in response to what amounts to a gesture.” Swann’s own proposed response to our problem, however:

is to stand up for what is right. Ayn Rand said one must never grant evil a moral sanction, and that alone is enough for now. Not arguing, not hectoring, it is sufficient to say… “That may be your belief, but I do not share it.”

A simple declaration that you do not give a moral sanction to your despoilers, as and where it is required. Without anger, without fear, without shame, without guilt, a simple dispassionate statement of your right as an individual to be an individual. To any rejoinder, it is sufficient to say, “I am as entitled to my beliefs as you are to yours.” If your interlocutor persists, your reply is any form of, “I am a free and equal citizen and I am not subject to your oversight.”

To this he adds that “you should work to structure your world as” a world in which “you get what you pay for and you pay for what you get.”

This is all no more than a gesture, too, for now. But it is a conceptual gesture, the communication of vitally important ideas, not a pantomime subject to misapprehension, misrepresentation or simply neglect. Will it effect immediate, dramatic changes? Probably not. Will it change all of the world, eventually? It will, much as the original Hellenic assertion of individuality did.

I haven’t been convinced by Swann’s argument to trade my vain gesture for his conceptual one, but I appreciate his attempts to expand on Muste’s dissent to this tax resistance strategy.