2004 Annual Report on My Tax Resistance

In this annual report, summing up of tax resistance, I’ve put links to previous Picket Line entries that expand on some of the topics I mention at the end of the paragraphs in which those topics are raised. These links can be followed by clicking on the ♦ symbols.

Picket Line Annual Report

, the invasion of Iraq began and I quit my job to start an experiment in tax resistance. ♦

A review of my goals

, my goal was to wash my hands of any financial support for the government. I wanted to do this by reducing my federal income tax burden to zero, legally, by lowering my income below the tax threshold and by taking legitimate deductions and credits.

, how has this experiment gone?

I’ve managed, through careful frugality and budgeting, to lower my expenses to the point where I can live well at an income that puts me below the tax line. That was the single most important thing I needed to accomplish in order to make this experiment a sustainable lifestyle. ♦

I came to understand, however, that eliminating my federal income tax won’t necessarily stop my financial support of the government. To do that, I also have to stop paying the payroll tax (FICA) — and that’s a harder nut to crack. ♦ ♦ ♦

So I’ll need to decide whether I can live with paying FICA, or whether I should stop trying to do this experiment above-board and just dive into the underground economy where I can get paid under-the-table, or I’ll need to discover a way to get out of the payroll tax legally that I don’t know about yet. ♦

Until then, I’ve been exorcising some of this by doing some volunteer work for the VITA program — helping people with low incomes get some of their FICA payments back through the EITC. ♦ ♦

To my great embarrassment, I miscalculated when estimating my income, so that when I finally got my W-2 forms in the mail, it turned out I’d earned about $5,000 more than I thought I had. That was a big oops, and enough to move me out of the tax-free category. I’ll get a big refund from the IRS , but they’re still going to hold on to more than $900 of what I paid in — so even my goal of paying no federal income tax wasn’t met . Still, that’s a tiny fraction of what I paid , and I’m confident I’ll hit zero in . ♦

Other goals

I also hoped to encourage other people to consider tax resistance — people who don’t need convincing that the government is rotten, but who aren’t sure what they should do about it. For myself, it was Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience that gave me the final push, so, inspired by this, at various times I’ve tried to craft some rhetorical appeals of my own — there’s one that just came out in ’s HopeDance, for instance. ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

This site itself is meant in part to be a trail of breadcrumbs I’m leaving for people who think they might want to try my variety of tax resistance. I’ve been encouraged by a number of people who have contacted me via email to tell me they’ve started tax resistance or are taking some steps in that direction and that The Picket Line has helped inspire them.

I’ve learned from the many historical examples of tax resistance — both internationally (for instance Gandhi and the residents of Beit Sahour) and in the United States (for instance Thoreau, Wally & Juanita Nelson, A.J. Muste and the Quakers). ♦ ♦

And I’ve learned a lot about the variety of ways in which tax resistance is practiced — people resist taxes for many reasons and have a variety of goals in mind, and there are almost as many methods as there are tax resisters. ♦

One thing I discovered is that the method of tax resistance I’ve chosen is not particularly well-documented. The existing tax resistance guides that mention this method are short on details and tend to wildly exaggerate its difficulty. Since the job I quit at the start of this experiment was technical writing, I decided to put my experience to work — I’ve come up with a “Howto” Guide, which I continue to refine as the tax law changes and as I learn more. ♦

Another thing I found was that, on-line anyway, even more support for my project came from the libertarian community than from the mostly-leftish anti-war movement. In particular, Claire Wolfe and Wendy McElroy have brought many readers this way, and I’ve been encouraged in return to test my ethical theories in the forges of libertarian discussion boards. (That said, the Quaker pacifist site nonviolence.org has sent a steady stream of visitors my way, too.) I continue to hope that the libertarians and the peaceniks will one day meet across the capitalist divide and realize they’ve got a common enemy. ♦ ♦ ♦

Another thing worth mentioning is that while I’m living at a much lower income, and being much more of a penny pincher, my quality of life is actually much improved. Quitting my job gave me plenty of free time, which I’ve been spending travelling, working on projects and hobbies, learning new skills, trying to start a very modest home-based business, and lounging about reading good books. I also sleep better at night knowing that I’m not spending my days raising more money for the politicians to spend.

And I don’t know how much of this I can attribute to taking a stand, how much is due to being out from under the thumb of a day job, and how much is just neurochemical tides or overdue maturity — but I feel much more like I’m on the right track, in a large-scale, existential sense. I feel like I’m living in the right skin, at the right time, in a life that I’ve taken charge of — and that I’m awake enough now to be able to sniff the air and notice if some important part of my destiny comes floating by on the breeze. I like the way that feels.

But to the extent that one of my goals has been the overthrow of the current regime and the institution of a new world order of butterflies and rainbows and puppy dogs and freedom, well, we’ve got a ways ta go still on that one.

State of the world

, the world was in an uproar. The usual suspects were out in the streets making noise and stopping traffic, and the suits at the top of the org charts were ignoring them and throwing some very expensive and very deadly machinery at people in Iraq. ♦

, the pro-war spin has unraveled more thoroughly than anyone expected. It’s amazing in retrospect how much more accurately the anti-war slogans in the street described the situation when compared to the voices of reason on TV and in the editorial pages. ♦ ♦ ♦

But I don’t think this matters very much. While it’s possible that the debacle may help to force the Dubya Squad from office, it’s also sadly very possible that it won’t. And in any case, as nice as such a thing would be, we’d wake up to our hangovers the next morning to find that not much had really changed: the public’s willful credulity and the malpractice of the press will still be there to exploit, and Kerry (who gave the Dubya Squad the green light back when he last had a chance to do something about it) and his new kids on the block will be there to exploit them. ♦ ♦

The massive civilian casualties inflicted by the U.S.-led coalition went mostly unnoticed in the United States — in fact you can still hear people talking about how much effort the U.S. puts into minimizing civilian casualties, as if such assertions of fact never need to be compared to reality, as if they were just statements of pride, like “America is the Greatest Country on Earth.” ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The state of Iraq is a post-war and post-tyranny mess, naturally. Slowly and awkwardly, the country is moving into some sort of make-believe quasi-sovereignty. But at least Saddam is gone, and whatever rottenness replaces him will have to work awfully hard if it wants to be worse, even if it ultimately is just a puppet government or some sort of confederacy of unelected bosses.

Civil liberties in the United States continue their decline, which is a sad thing to anyone with lingering pride in the story of America as a Beacon of Freedom and all that. And there’s some evidence that the government is using its new powers to stifle dissent. I don’t know why it should bother: The lackluster state of the opposition in this country is nothing for it to be afraid of at this stage.

Tax policy has changed in ways that are favorable to tax protesters who are using the method I’m using. For example, the new Health Savings Accounts are a great way for people to hide away more income from the tax-collector. Also, recent tax cuts have caused federal budgets to go into the red like never before. Although their methods aren’t the ones I’d choose, the Dubya Squad are successfully using their power to bankrupt the government more quickly and thoroughly than I can do even in my most megalomaniacal daydreams. ♦ ♦ ♦

There have been a few newsworthy events on the tax protest movement front — the latest push to get more people involved in resisting the phone tax has pretty much fizzled so far, but the tax resistance movement got a good publicity boost from the impressively large tax resistance by Julia “Butterfly” Hill. ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Prospects for

Looking ahead to , I’ve got a much better idea of what I’ll need to do to stay below the tax line, and I’ve got more control over my income. I should be able to avoid advancing the feds any income tax . , my returns won’t be begging for the IRS to give my money back but instead will be big, loud raspberries in the direction of Washington.

I hope to continue to do outreach to pacifists, peaceniks, anarchists, libertarians and anyone else who might listen. I plan to continue to work on my “Howto” guide in order to make it easier for new recruits. I may very well look more seriously into opportunities in the underground economy (though I’ll probably be quiet about this here on the blog).

And I will continue to critically examine my own ethical assumptions and search for practical ways to practice what Gandhi called the Dharma of Sedition.