At the 6-Month Point in My Tax Resistance, a Status Report

I started this experiment in tax resistance. Now is a good opportunity for a recap of how the experiment has gone:

“My intention,” I wrote, “is to reduce my income below the threshold of taxation so as to stop paying income tax to the U.S. government.” So far, so good. I’m on track to having no federal income tax liability .

I intend to withdraw my financial support as much as I can, and I plan to do so lawfully. Not because I have great respect for the law… It’s a practical matter. For one thing, if I’m arrested for something, I hope it’s something better than tax evasion. Also, it would be counterproductive in the course of trying to keep from financially supporting the government to give it an easy excuse to seize my property.

I’ve since backed off a bit from this, deciding that I would not on principle refuse to earn undeclared income in the underground economy if a reasonably risk-free opportunity presented itself. Still, my primary method has been income reduction.

…how will I get by? Much more frugally, of course… I may end up having to move out of the area… I may try to land a volunteer job that covers some food and lodging. I may leave the country. I’ll probably start selling off a bunch of my stuff and live on what I’ve been able to save from already-taxed income for a bit (although I’m aiming to be able to hit a stable point of being able to live below the tax-line without supplemental income of any sort…

As it turns out, I haven’t had to move out of the country, the area or even my home. I did move my apartment’s “Harry Potter Room” under the stairs in order to lower my rent down to something reasonable (by San Francisco standards).

Have I been living within my means? Well… yes and no. I’ve had one extraordinary expense — my trip to Guatemala — which was outside of my budget. I’d been saving up for some sort of adventure in Latin America at my old job, and when I quit the job I didn’t give up the dream of going on the adventure. It didn’t fit into a sustainable budget, though.

At one point I had to go to the hospital and have my finger stitched up after an accident in the kitchen. Although this ended up only costing about the same amount as a month’s insurance premium would have, it did get me thinking about the financial and ethical risks of being uninsured. I ended up applying for insurance, but $200+ per month seems a lot to pay for a policy with a $75,000 maximum yearly payout. So I’m insured unless something really goes bad, I guess, which isn’t as reassuring as I’d hoped it would be.

Be that as it may, I’ve brought my regular day-to-day expenses way down. As of the start of , I’ve started keeping track of my expenditures down to the penny so that I will be able to give a more accurate report of my budget — but from estimates and educated guesses I’d say I’ve adopted an in-budget lifestyle.

There are other ways the federal government gets its hands on my cash — through taxes on such things as gasoline, beer, Burning Man, etc. I’ll be reducing or eliminating these contributions as well.

I can’t claim as much success here. Being car-free, I didn’t spend much on gasoline before my experiment, and I can’t say I’m spending any less now. I’m only buying less beer because of a general inclination to spend less; I still like to tip a tall cold one in the evening. I went to Burning Man again and swallowed my disgust at helping the Bureau of Land Management leech a profit off of the event.

I don’t really know anyone else who’s doing this. Although I’m starting to try to reach out to other tax resisters, most of them are using civil disobedience rather than income reduction.

Since I wrote this I have reached out and I found a community of tax resisters, a long history of tax protest, and a large variety of methods and reasons. I attended the National War Tax Resistance Coördinating Committee conference in . I learned a lot there, and found that contrary to my initial impression, many tax protesters are using the same general method that I’m using.

I also was surprised to learn that not paying federal income taxes is extremely common in the United States. Millions of people fail to declare income or to file tax returns at all, and of those who do file returns, about one quarter have no federal income tax liability at all. Likely few of these “lucky duckies” (as the Wall Street Journal likes to call them) are evading income tax for reasons of conscience — but if it’s this common and this easy, I have to wonder why more people of conscience aren’t evading the income tax?

In , my own life has improved a great deal. I did not expect that the boost to my mood and my enthusiasm that came from washing the blood from my hands would be so intense or so long-lasting. I’ve also been enjoying the extra time in my schedule that I’ve had since quitting my job — I’ve been able to engage in some interesting projects, go on some great trips, visit friends and family more often, and have an extra hunk of leisure time.

On the other side of the coin, though, is the state of the nation and of the world, which has just been getting darker. To our political leaders the promise of liberty that has been this nation’s greatest source of pride is no more valuable than a campaign promise. Dishonesty and deception are so ingrained into politics that it’s hard to see how democracy could be recovered from the wreckage even if it were tried. And meanwhile, for ends which are apparently too shameful to reveal honestly, the United States and its coalition have murdered blindly more innocent people than were killed by terrorists on .

The United States has taken on all comers and emerged victorious in the olympics of imprisonment — caging a higher percentage of its citizens than any other nation on earth. It vastly outspends several of its closest competitors combined on armaments and eagerly continues an arms race that nobody else can compete in. The government spends more money on the military today (in inflation-adjusted dollars) than at any time since the Korean War. Of course this is not because an angry vagrant in a cave and his evil henchmen are more dangerous than was the Soviet Union, but because the United States has adopted, shamelessly, the motives we accused the Evil Empire of having: It wants the power to rule the world with an iron fist.

Its citizens, alas, seem content, and most either praise their country with the unearned praise a grandparent gives a grandchild known mostly from a photo stuck to the fridge, or criticize it ineffectually with pointless barber-shop talk-show fluff. Only a fool thinks that liberty is still worth raising a fuss about, or that the blood of innocents is too high a price to pay for the lies of politicians. I’m sticking with the fools.