In the United States, about 25% of the people who file tax returns end up owing absolutely nothing for the year (or even, thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit, less than nothing).
The Wall Street Journal famously called this class of untaxed millions lucky duckies, who by foisting off the tax burden on the other 75% of America are thereby presumably unconcerned with tax reform and government waste and other things the Journal would rather we all be concerned with. The Journal and others advocate for reforms that would tax the lucky duckies along with everyone else, but the recent tax cuts advocated by Bush and passed into law actually increased the number of ducks in the pond.
I have a couple of observations about this surprising percentage of tax-free citizens.
One: if so many people are doing this, mostly not for reasons of conscience, why are so many people who do have strong conscientious objections to how the government spends our money failing to do this?
I can get some answers to this from pure self-examination, since for a long time I was in the camp of people who thought they were in opposition to the government and its policies while I was underwriting them all the while.
I hope on this site to examine and deflate some of the rationalizations I used to justify my subsidy of the government, and other rationalizations that I encounter.
Two: on the other hand, if the government can tolerate having one in four “taxpayers” failing to pay taxes and it still has enough money to build an incontestably vast and mighty arsenal, indulge its prison fetish, et cetera, what hope does tax resistance have for being much more than a sad, resigned, personal gesture?
I have to wonder some days whether Dubya isn’t doing more to bankrupt the government than an entire army of tax resisters would be able to accomplish. It would take about six million of me, quitting our jobs and refusing to feed the IRS, to match the $87 billion Dubya just asked for to pay for the oddly unexpected expenses in our never-ending war. To match the $300 billion deficit in the budget Bush submitted to Congress — money that he’s effectively withholding from future Congresses (with interest) — would take twenty million Picket Lines like mine.
When I wrote this site’s FAQ, I noted that the “primary reason I chose this course of action was to stop supporting the government personally — to wash my hands of it. It was born of a selfish desire to live my life according to my principles, and not of a more overarching agenda of regime change or reform.” But even so, I allowed myself to fantasize: “What if 10% of the people who are of the opinion that the war was a terrible mistake or that the government is run by a bunch of crooks actually did as I’m doing and withdrew their support?”
And I’m afraid that maybe the answer is “maybe it still wouldn’t make much of a difference.” On the other hand, I still think it beats writing an ignore-o-gram to your Senator or waving a sign at the Civic Center. And if it doesn’t do much good, at least it doesn’t do as much harm as paying the taxes does.