The discussion continues over at the Claire Files Board,
much of it about whether people are morally obligated to evade taxation (for
reasons above and beyond simple self-interest), or whether on the contrary
because the money is essentially being taken from you at gunpoint, only the
people holding the guns bear the moral responsibility for how the money ends
up getting spent. One person asks me:
What would you think of working in an above-the-radar business that diverted
money away from the public sector and into the private? An obvious example
would be a tax consultant. Suppose you made a hundred grand showing people
how to legally cut their taxes. You could only do so by saving them far more
than a hundred grand in income, you’d be diverting hundreds of thousands of
dollars away from the public coffers and into private hands. Even though
you’d have to pay substantial taxes to do this efficiently wouldn’t you
actually be doing more to defund government than if you simply prevented them
from getting anything out of your own pocket?
I’m actually doing a version of this. But I’m not a qualified tax
professional, so rather than making a hundred grand helping people divert
hundreds of grands away from the government, I’m doing something a bit more
modest. I’ve volunteered at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites in San
Francisco to help lower-income folk fill out and submit their tax forms. A
lot of people who qualify for tax credits like the
don’t bother to file tax returns for various reasons (they don’t know about
the credit, don’t know they qualify for it, can’t be bothered with the
program does outreach to lower-income folk and helps them get their
This is a program in which everyone is working hard to take money away from
the government and give it back to some of the people it was stolen from.
“Do what you love” is my motto!
It requires that I work arm in arm with people from the
the end result of my efforts is that money is taken out of the government’s
trough and handed back to people who’ve had it taken from them in the form of
FICA. It makes me feel a bit like Robin Hood.
I’m not objecting at all what you’re doing but you do know that
is simply a government program for forced wealth redistribution, right?
Well, I haven’t done all the math on this, so correct me if I’m wrong, but
is only available to people with earned income, which is by definition people
who have been paying taxes via
FICA. So at least some of the money they’re getting back via
money they’ve paid in via
FICA. I don’t know if it’s possible to get back more than you paid in; maybe so.
So as far as I’m concerned, this isn’t wealth redistribution so much as the
recovery of stolen property.
And then I told a fable…
One day a man came into town and said that a troll had set up shop under the
bridge that led to town and was charging people to pass over the bridge. The
people were outraged, and grabbed their weapons and stormed the bridge. But
when they got there, they saw that the troll was too big and fearsome, and
had a small family of equally vicious trolls with him in his under-bridge
home, and their hides were too tough for their weapons, and so they retreated.
“It’s okay,” said one of the townspeople. “We can take the
old road that avoids the bridge. It’s longer, but there are no trolls.”
“Balderdash,” said another. “That bridge is the best route
to town and it’s the one I’ve always taken and I have no intention of
stopping now. At least the troll isn’t asking for all of my money.”
“But if we all stop giving the troll money maybe he’ll go away and find
some other bridge.”
“Maybe he will. But it’s not my job to starve the troll — never
has been. I’ve got better things to do, and I don’t see why I should have to
go out of my way to do them. I’d rather have a troll take my money than have
you tell me how I ought to live my life.”
And there things stood for a long time, some people paying the toll to the
troll, some people taking the long road. Until one day someone came into
town and reported some sort of commotion down at the bridge.
The villagers ran off to where they could see what was happening. It looked
like there was some sort of troll fiesta going on, with laughing and drinking
and carrying on. After a while it turned to sobs and crying, until the
largest of the trolls patted the smallest one on the back and said,
“good luck, Daughter. I’m sure you’ll make us proud.” Then he
handed the daughter a large bag of the villagers’ gold and watched with a
tear in his eye as she walked away.
“Well, that’s one less troll,” one of the townspeople whispered.
But it turned out to be bad news, not good, as this young troll took a
husband and set up shop in a nice big troll booth not far away — on the
old road to town!
The townspeople grumbled and cursed, but most went back to using the bridge.
One old codger used a path that hardly anyone else remembered, and so he
avoided the tolls, but that road was hard and not well-marked, and most
people thought it was wiser to feed the trolls. Which was a good thing, for
the trolls, as they all had growing families to feed.
Whereupon there was much discussion and gnashing of teeth, including:
[In] the troll analogy, once the villagers decided killing the troll was too
dangerous and taking the longer route too arduous, they granted the troll a
certain amount of power over their lives. Once the troll has the power to
harm, his continuing to not use it in exchange for money can be construed as
a benefit of the arrangement. Sure it is an immoral bargain but, in the real
world, morality gets short thrift when competing with self-interest.
One of the points I was trying to make with the troll analogy is that trolls
just get nastier the more money you give ’em. Pretty soon they’re taking up
the alternate roads,
Maybe when they get so powerful that you’re absolutely unable to do anything
but serve them, you just have to be their galley slave. But if you still have
the option to resist, especially when it’s only a matter of going a little bit
out of your way, it might be in your best interests to do just that.
Way back in the day on my blog I
paraphrased Claire Wolfe’s Bartlett’s Familiar
Claire Wolfe said something like “we’re at an awkward point where it’s too
late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards.” But
we’re also at a point where the state is too evil to actively support, but not
so evil that support cannot be withheld.
If we keep feeding the troll, it gets bigger and nastier and more numerous — arguments about whether we’re ethically obligated to starve the troll or are
responsible for its evil deeds if we don’t are kind of beside the point.
Dude, it’s a forking troll! Let’s get rid of it, eh? I want a happy
ending to the fairy tale in which the troll goes away or is defeated, not a
fairy tale about a village where everyone rationally avoids feeling guilty for
ethical responsibilities that aren’t logically theirs until the troll comes
and eats them through no fault of their own.