Dave Ridley’s Imprisonment for I.R.S. Office Civil Disobedience

The Keene Free Press has published part two of Dave Ridley’s account of the jail time he did recently after his civil disobedience action at the local IRS office.

This installment is about how he went into jail (unexpectedly, in Massachusetts) intending to maintain a noncooperative though nonviolent stance. Along the way, he had to choose his battles: does he answer standard booking questions? does he take a tuberculosis test? does he keep his temper when prison workers taunt and deceive him?

Ridley shares his thought processes as he made these decisions and learned from his mistakes. It’s a good look at the sorts of issues that will come up for anyone who intends to maintain a stance of nonviolent noncooperation during a short jail stint.

Philip Brewer at Wise Bread reviews Ragnar Benson’s Ragnar’s Guide to the Underground Economy. Excerpts:

The basic calculation that Benson does is this: An income of about $50,000 a year lets you live a comfortable middle-class life. However, earning $50,000 a year takes quite a bit of work. Suppose, instead, you earned about $30,000 a year, and then didn’t pay taxes? Depending on where you live, the net income works out to be about the same. As Benson puts it, “Personally, I have always found it much easier to earn 30 grand than 50!”

The book begins with the basics of operating in the underground economy: You work for cash, you avoid having a bank account, you leave no paper trail. (There’s also a comparison with less-drastic tax cheats who, for example, pocket cash payments while paying taxes as usual on payments by check or credit card.) There’s a discussion of the practical aspects of running a business that can’t be accredited or bonded, and has to be very careful about advertising or otherwise drawing attention to itself.

The bulk of the book, though, is a series of case studies of specific people working in the underground economy. There’s a section about a man who cuts up and delivers firewood. Another finds fossils and sells them to schools and scientific supply companies. Another gathers pine cones for sale to tree nurseries. There’s a chapter on service work like house cleaning and pet care. There’s a chapter on skilled work like carpentry, gunsmithing, or chimney sweeping. The book wraps up with a look at some of the downsides of the underground economy, such as the difficulty in getting medical insurance and not qualifying for social security or medicare.

Word on the street is that the Pope is going to issue a “doctrinal pronouncement” decrying tax evasion. The news reports are pretty vague, but suggest that the Pope is equating taxes with spending on the public good, and saying that by evading the former you’re shortchanging the latter. It may be worth watching for the release of his second encyclical to see if it’s any more nuanced than this.