I’ve mentioned before the many
on-line research papers by Robert McGee, who has spent the last dozen years
or so examining the international and historical opinions of philosophers and
religious scholars about the ethics of tax evasion, and comparing this to the
attitudes of people today.
McGee typically finds in his surveys, to his surprise and mine, only weak
support for tax evasion under any circumstances. For instance, in this
survey, on a scale from 1 (strongly agree) to 7 (strongly disagree), even a
statement like “Tax evasion would be ethical if I were a Jew living in Nazi
Germany in ” ranks only a 4.5 — among the
five faculty members who also took the survey, that question gets an even more
incredible 6.8! (An earlier survey of “international business academics” had a similar result for this question: 4.23)
This paper includes many of the comments written by the Romanian students and
may be a good source of information on the sort of attitudes that must be
overcome to build sympathy for tax resistance.
officials detected $68 million in false tax refund applications filed by
prisoners for . That accounted
for more than one-seventh of all phony refunds nationwide.
In Arizona, convicts were responsible for roughly half of the $600,000 in
fraudulent claims detected by Department of Revenue investigators
Nancy Jardini, chief of
criminal investigations, told a House subcommittee that inmate fraud has
increased 700 percent in three years.
“There is no question that prisoner refund fraud is on the rise,” she said.
“Even though prisoner returns comprised less than 1 percent of all individual
federal income tax returns filed in , more
than 15 percent of false refund returns used prisoner names and taxpayer
By all accounts, the crime is exacerbated by a simple fact: Inmates have
little incentive to stop because they seldom face punishment, from the
justice system or prison administrators, when they are caught. Law
enforcement authorities say they just don’t have the resources to investigate
criminals who are behind bars.…
During the House subcommittee hearings, an anonymous inmate drove home that
point by saying he had filed 700 false returns for $3.5 million worth of
…[I]nmates have devised dozens of schemes. When one succeeds, it is likely to
proliferate within a cellblock, then spread to other correctional centers.
Sometimes, ringleaders work out profit-sharing deals with cellmates, using
their names and Social Security numbers to file more tax returns. Or they may
just steal the information.
Either way, completed forms are sent to an outside accomplice who forwards
them to the
often using a post office box as a return address. When refunds arrive, the
middleman cashes each check, takes a cut and distributes the rest to inmate
prison accounts or associates on the outside. Some of the most sophisticated
operations launder money through offshore accounts.
Brad Palmer, an
agent, described tax-scamming in Arizona as a “huge” prison enterprise that
has infected every type of correctional facility in the state.
“There are a lot of inmates involved. The difficult part is knowing how many
of the schemes are all connected,” Palmer said. “Once we catch a scheme, they
adapt it and find a new system.”
Ethan Miller’s essay Solidarity Economics has
thought-provoking and encouraging things to say about the potential of the
underground economy that exists almost invisibly all around us:
“economy” is not just about supply-and-demand markets. In its largest sense,
economics is about how we as human beings collectively generate livelihoods
in relation to each other and to the Earth. The human economy includes all of
the varied social relationships that we create in the course of meeting our
needs and pursuing our dreams.
Capitalism, with its “free market economy,” its “jobs” and its “wages,” is
only one part of how we actually create and maintain livelihoods in our
families and communities. When we peel away the misleading idea of one giant
“Economic System,” we can begin to see the workings of many different kinds
of economies that are alive and well, supporting us below the surface. These
are not the economies of the stock-brokers and the “expert” economists. These
are our economies, people’s economies, the economies that we build with our
everyday lives and relationships.
These include: “Householding economies,” “barter economies,” “collective
economies,” “scavenging economies,” “gift economies,” “worker-controlled
economies,” “‘pirate’ economies,” and “subsistence-market economies.”
These categories name only some of the many diverse, non-capitalist economic
relationships that are interwoven throughout our lives. The project of
identifying these relationships is a project of hope, one that allows us to
begin de-colonizing ourselves from the devaluing and degrading ways-of-seeing
that have been imposed on us by the Economics of Empire. We can begin to see,
instead, the powerful spaces of freedom that already exist in our midst.…
Solidarity Economics begins here, with the realization that alternative
economies already exist; that we as creative and skilled people have already
created different kinds of economic relationships in the very belly of the
capitalist system. We have our own forms of wealth and value that are not
defined by money. Instead of prioritizing competition and profit-making,
these economies place human needs and relationships at the center. They are
the already-planted seeds of a new economy, an economy of cooperation,
equality, diversity, and self-determination: a “solidarity economy”.
Though the capitalist economy has devalued or hidden these seeds from us, we
can use them as starting points for our alternative economic organizing. The
project of solidarity economics is to water these seeds — to identify and
expand the spaces of solidarity that already exist and, in the process,
create new and larger ones.