A.J. Muste Would Not Approve of My Method of Tax Resistance

, I dropped the name of Dr. A.J. Muste, who was briefly profiled in Edmund Wilson’s book The Cold War and the Income Tax: A Protest (). Here’s an example of where he is mentioned in the book:

[H]ow is one to struggle against this situation? Go on strike and refuse to pay taxes?… The alternative[s include]… see[ing] to it that your income is never allowed to rise above the taxable level. Dr. A.J. Muste, the secretary emeritus of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, has, in his own case, refused to accept this solution. “Voluntarily keeping one’s income down,” he writes, “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.”

Needless to say, I disagree. But I don’t think that myself & Dr. Muste are so much in disagreement as we are talking past each other a bit. Muste, I think, sees tax protest as a symbolic and confrontational act of opposition; I see tax refusal as a more practical and non-confrontational act of enlightened self-interest. Of course, if tax protest is supposed to be confrontational, then doing it by the government’s own rules is pointless. If, on the other hand, the goal is simply to stop contributing to the funding of the government, then it may be the best available avenue to that end.

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.

And now to give an overdue “thanks” to my dad. My pop is the youngest child of a divorced mother, and he grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression. I, as his son, growing up in a two-income, two-child family in the more affluent , had little patience for the well-learned frugal instincts of my father. His “leftover surprise” combinations were (and sometimes still are) jokes between me and my brother; his willingness to find the edible core of the furry remains of some former food in the fridge alarmed and disgusted us; the way he would save and reuse things that were so clearly disposable was embarrassing for reasons I didn’t identify until much later as class self-consciousness.

Now I’m learning for myself that frugality is a virtue and I’m happily learning also that in all those years of embarrassment and amusement I was yet learning by my father’s example — at least some of his instincts have passed down from father to son. Thanks, Dad!