War Tax Resisters Ken & Noreen Gingerich

Iowa’s KCRG television news profiles tax resisters Ken and Noreen Gingerich. Excerpts:

Ken Gingerich of Johnson County said, “I feel the military budget in this country and military spending is way out of line.”

, Gingerich and his wife Noreen have done their best to make sure their taxes do not fund any sort of violence.

Ken said, “We’ve either lived below the taxable income or withheld a portion of our taxes.”

Ken calls it war tax resistance. It is his protest to end violence. The IRS calls it a frivolous tax return, punishable by up to a $5,000 fine. It is a risk the Gingerich’s are willing to take. They are Mennonites. Their religious beliefs do not allow for violence.

Ken said, “If I have to choose between god and country, it’ll be god.”

There’s what looks like a video-link on the site too, but I wasn’t able to get past the opening commercial.

Nathan Tabor at The Conservative Voice weighs in on the sudden war tax resistance controversy — “New Tax Protest Penalizes Patriots”:

Here’s how it works: Anti-war zealots are refusing to pay their taxes because they say they don’t want their money to pay for the war in Iraq. That means the rest of us are forced to make up for the shortfall. In other words, if you support our troops, you could face the prospect of an even greater tax burden, because some ideologues are refusing to pay their fair share.

The Associated Press article had the same sort of thing: “Tax resisters place an undue burden on taxpayers who pay their fair share of taxes, IRS spokeswoman Dianne Besunder said.” It’s a strangely seductive form of quasi-reasoning. I see it cropping up all the time when people debate tax resistance:

  1. The government tries to steal from person A and person B.
  2. Person B manages to get out of it; person A doesn’t.
  3. Ergo, person B is stealing from person A.

There’s often a hidden #2½ in there too, something like “the government tries to get what it couldn’t get out of person A from person B.” But still, how “the government steals more from person A” becomes “person B steals more from person A” is a weird bit of logical alchemy. As an argument it doesn’t hold up well under scrutiny, but it seems to offer something that passes for an argument and expresses something that people find compelling.

Having been interrogated on numerous talk shows over the past several days, I’ve had time to do some thinking about how to respond to questions like these. I’m no expert in this sort of thing, but it seems to be a learnable art. I think tax resisters might be well served by collecting some of these common interview questions along with some suggestions on how best to handle them.

I wonder what would happen if we responded to the quasi-logic I illustrated above by trying to make this implied #2½ more explicit: “You’re afraid that if the government doesn’t get what it wants from me that it will take more from you?” That preserves the person’s concern, while also preserving the fact that it’s the government that’s doing all the taking.

Of course, you have to then address the concern, but then at least you’re doing so from a foundation based in reality. It’s hard to address a concern that doesn’t make sense, except to deny it outright, which isn’t very persuasive to the person with the concern.

But it might not turn out to be the right “hidden #2½.” Another possible interpretation is: “By not paying taxes, person A is taking money away from the government that the government would have spent to benefit person B.” This is a whole different argument, and requires a whole different response. Until I figure out which interpretation is the right one, I won’t really know how to answer the concern.

It seems to me that often people will express a sort of knee-jerk aversion or disapproval in the form of a pseudo-argument like this, when they themselves don’t really know which real argument they’re advancing. By asking them to make their reasoning more explicit, not only am I understanding their concerns better, but I’m helping them to better understand their own concerns. Indeed, sometimes it’s enough to make the real argument behind the pseudo-argument explicit, without trying to address it.

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Thanks to Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance for plugging The Picket Line.