Don’t Be an Accessory to Murder

Lawrence Samuels, Northern California vice chair of the Libertarian Party, almost but doesn’t quite call for tax resistance in his brief essay Don’t Be an Accessory to Murder in ’s

“In reviewing the history of the English government, its wars and its taxes, a bystander, not blinded by prejudice nor warped by interest, would declare that taxes were not raised to carry on wars, but that wars were raised to carry on taxes.”
— Thomas Paine, Rights of Man

…[M]ost people are putting money into the federal tax pot. A sizable portion of that money is being spent to fight a preemptive-strike war in Iraq — a nation that neither attacked nor directly threatened the sovereignty of the United States. And although it is common knowledge that thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens have died at the hands of U.S. troops, many American citizens still support and willingly pay taxes to the U.S. government.

…[T]his “collateral damage” means that most U.S. citizens paying federal taxes have blood on their hands. Technically, any taxpayer paying federal taxes can be considered an accessory to murder if they support involuntary taxation.

…Under criminal law, anyone funding criminal activity or withholding knowledge of the criminal act can be charged as an accessory to the crime, before or after the fact.

To the libertarian, the best way to stop criminal activity is not to support it financially. Without an ample supply of money coerced from citizens, the war of empire-building and its murderous consequences cannot be sustained.

As Supreme Court Justice John Marshall wrote in , “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” We must stop this destructive taxing and warring apparatus of the state if we wish to preserve human life and liberty.

I’ve mentioned on past Picket Line entries the work of scholar Robert W. McGee, who has researched the historical and cross-cultural attitudes concerning the ethics of tax evasion. He now has released several new reports that cover Argentina, Armenia, China, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Poland, Romania and the Ukraine.

McGee surveyed people in these countries and asked them to give a response from 1 (strongly agree) to 7 (strongly disagree) to statements including:

  1. Tax evasion is ethical if a large portion of the money collected is spent on projects that I morally disapprove of
  2. Tax evasion is ethical if some of the proceeds go to support a war that I consider to be unjust
  3. Tax evasion would be ethical if I were a Jew living in Nazi Germany in

Not all questions were asked in all surveys, but here were the results for those three questions, along with the average scores for all of the “Tax evasion is ethical if…” questions:

SurveyAverage ScoreState­ment #1State­ment #2State­ment #3
218 students and faculty at Austral University in Argentina
85 business and theology students in Yerevan, Armenia 4.543.80
173 business and economics students at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, China
256 business & economics, law and philosophy students at Hubei University and Wuhan Industrial College in Wuhan, China
114 business and law students at Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala
279 economics students at the Poznan University of Economics in Poland
90 business students at Hong Kong Baptist University
134 students at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest, Romania 4.594.694.454.50
161 business and economics students at Odessa Mehnikov National University and Odessa State Economics University* 4.314.784.063.67

As you can see from this data, which resembles other sets that McGee has collected, those who answer his surveys do not tend to give much support to tax evasion even in the most extreme circumstances (such as a hypothetical Jew in Nazi Germany paying a government in order to buy the mechanism of his own murder).

Of the 906 people who responded to that statement (“Tax evasion would be ethical if I were a Jew living in Nazi Germany in ”), the average response on a scale from 1 (strongly agree) to 7 (strongly disagree) was 4.01 — right in the middle.

This demonstrates that the tax resistance movements have a long way to go in influencing public opinion to be at all sympathetic to their viewpoint. But it also demonstrates, I think, that much of the opposition to tax resistance may be unthinking and knee-jerk and that if people had an opportunity to actually consider the consequences of their thinking on the subject (is that hypothetical Jew really ethically obligated to help pay for Auschwitz?) this might be a beneficial consciousness-raising event that would cause them to look on tax resistance in general in a more sympathetic light.

* This was originally on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree) and I had to convert the numbers to match the others.