There’s a subplot to the debate that has to do with whether paying taxes is
“voluntary” (and if so, in what sense), and whether it’s ethical, and whether
tax resistance is appropriate or a waste of time.
I’ve been following this debate, or bits and pieces of it anyway, but haven’t
put my two cents in yet. This is partially because I’m not sure I understand
what the core point of disagreement is.
It seems to be something like this: do we need to be vigorously attempting to
build protocols and structures in which people can engage in transactions
free from state interference in order to begin to build a free world inside
the shell of the decaying state, or, are we better off submitting to the fact
that the state will remain a dominant force in our lives for the foreseeable
future and concentrate on building satisfying lives within that limitation
while trying to spread the good word of liberty and seeking out the company
of like-minded people?
It seems to me there’s plenty good to be drawn from both positions.
I agree that if the state were, through our efforts or through its own
bumbling, to collapse today, the fact that the statist mindset is so
ubiquitous would mean that people would assemble something just as bad in no
time at all just out of habit. So education is essential.
On the other hand, agorist transactions and structures can be a vivid part of
this education. Seeing an utterly anarchist festival thrive in the midst of
state hostility — the
Gathering — was a real eye-opener to me about the possibilities of
organization without coercion. A bunch of hippies in the woods creating
something strikingly well-organized without any leadership hierarchy to speak
of, without any coercion, and in direct defiance to a hostile state, did more
to make the possibilities of anarchism come alive to me than any theoretical
As tax resistance is my Big Deal, I’ll say a few things about it specifically.
Tax resistance today is no threat to the government. One way I know this is
that I can refuse to pay my taxes, blog about this day after day, publicly
encourage other people to do the same, attend conferences of other resisters,
publish books and other writings on the subject, and so forth, and at no time
do I feel like I have jack-booted thugs breathing down my neck. They don’t
give a damn. We are barely an annoyance, much less a threat.
Tax resistance can be a powerful method of resistance, but it requires a much
larger and well-disciplined set of resisters than we have at present. Such
resistance would have to come at some point after a majority or at least a
very significant minority of people had given up their allegiance to the
state and were sufficiently frustrated to be wiling to go into risky
confrontation with it.
This leaves tax resistance today as some other sort of tactic. In some
people, it’s just self-interest — more frequently called tax evasion
and just designed to hold on to more money. In some people, it’s a variety of
protest that takes the form of civil disobedience as a way of emphasizing the
strength of the protester’s convictions. A third form is tax resistance as
conscientious objection — not paying taxes because you find contributing to
the government to be something that offends your sense of ethics. That’s more
what I have in mind when I resist. I don’t want to voluntarily contribute to
This brings up the whole “what’s voluntary about it?” question.
The government says that if you earn income you must pay
FICA (for instance). This is a demand, not a request, and they have an
enforcement apparatus that includes violent coercion to back that up.
But I don’t mean voluntary as opposed to coerced, but as opposed to
If the government knocks down my door and makes off with something valuable
they find in my house, they have taken this thing from me, and to the extent
that I’ve given it to them, I’ve done so wholly involuntarily. But if they
come to me and say “give me your stuff or else…” then it is my voluntary
decision whether to choose what’s behind door #1 or door #2.
Now certainly there are some circumstances where you look at the alternatives
and choose to fork over the loot rather than choose a very unpleasant
But for me, tax resistance means asking “or else what?” each time the demand
is made, and then deciding whether the alternative is really any worse than
putting my time and energy (fossilized into money) into supporting the state.
About 40% of Americans live under the federal income tax line, which is to
say that they pay no federal income tax at all because after credits and
deductions and such their income isn’t high enough. I decided I’d rather
become one of them than earn more income and therefore pay income tax.
There are consequences to earning more and paying income tax, and there are
consequences to earning less and not paying them. I picked the ones I
preferred. In doing this, I put less value on money than a lot of people do,
and more value on not supporting the state than just about anybody does,
which is why I came up with a decision that’s rare enough to be remarkable. I
think the world would be a better place if more people had values a bit more
like mine, but I guess I’m not alone in having such feelings.
(I also evade other taxes in other ways, some legal and some illegal. And the
process of trying to work out a good balance of living well and minimizing my
support for the state is an ongoing one for me.)