If Taxpaying Is Wrong, Are Taxpayers Evil?

I went over to a friend’s home for dinner & drinks with some good pals of mine. We were treated to a Korean-style table-grill barbecue and went through huge stacks of meat and a big plastic bottle of some transparent liquor called “Green.”

Our conversation danced all over the place — from umpiring (Oakland had just dropped a game to the Red Sox after a sketchy call turned a run into a rally-killing out) to linguistics to travel to politics — but mostly skipped over my tax-resistance obsession.

But my friends are aware of my activities and my blog. One of them AIM’d me while reading ’s entry. I didn’t save a log of the conversation so I’ll liberally paraphrase:

In other words, how can I break bread with taxpayers in the evening after spending the morning posting a rant that says that taxpayers are willingly complicit in the government’s evil deeds?

Well, the fact is that I don’t think my friends are evil; I think they’re trying to get along in this world the best they can, same as me. And until I know otherwise, I’ve got to assume this is true for any random taxpayer.

In my own case, I eventually found that whatever benefits I was getting from my nice big salary weren’t enough to offset the distaste I had for funding the government as a result. I know for other people this might not be the case — the benefits might be greater for them, or the distaste not as great. My judgments aren’t one-size-fits-all. I accept that people may have good reasons to continue to pay taxes, consistent with their own views and priorities.

There was a time though when I didn’t have any good reasons to pay taxes and yet I kept paying them — my own views and priorities were inconsistent with my actions. All I had left were my bad-faith excuses: Versions of “everybody else is doing it” and “but it wouldn’t really change anything if I stopped” and “but someone else would just pay what I didn’t” and “how do I know that my taxes didn’t pay for something beneficial” and “but it’s impossible to be perfect so why even try to be good” and such.

The fiery sermons I’ve posted here are designed for people who are where I was at : I’d run out of good reasons to pay taxes and all that was propping me up was my bad-faith excuses. Somebody finally forced me to face the facts and stop thinking I could hide behind lame justifications. That somebody was Henry David Thoreau, in his uncompromising essay On Resistance to Civil Government (a.k.a. Civil Disobedience).

So I respect the power of good uncompromising rhetoric to shake someone out of their own ethical schizophrenia. But if you didn’t agree with Thoreau that the war in Mexico was a bad idea, or that Massachusetts was behaving unethically by cooperating with the Fugitive Slave Act, well, he wasn’t talking to you anyway. And it’s true that Thoreau and Emerson came off as terrible scolds sometimes.

The entries in this blog are mostly intended for people who have already decided that the government has crossed the line, but who aren’t confident about how they are going to respond to this. The blog is designed to promote tax resistance as an option, and to demolish the various bad-faith excuses for not considering that option, in the hopes that only those readers who continue to hold genuinely good reasons for paying taxes will continue to do so.

If you believe that the government really isn’t all that bad, I think you’re wrong, but I can’t argue that you’re being rotten by continuing to fund a government that you don’t have a complaint with. On the other hand, if you agree with me that the government is rotten and dangerous but your best excuse for paying taxes is something like “yeah, but if I withhold my taxes, they’ll just get the money from someone else” then I’m gonna rip into that excuse with a happy heart because I know I’m not doing you any favors by humoring the lies you tell yourself about your motives.