So there’s this tension in me between seeing this experiment on the one hand as a personal gesture aimed at trying to stop being complicit in the actions of the government, and on the other hand as a potential tactic of nonviolent action aimed at, well, I think the kids are calling it “regime change” these days.
I’ve tended toward the former, since it’s something real that I can evaluate, and, in a more emotional and visceral way, feel. But I haven’t been able to shake the idea that if enough people joined in that it would make a difference, or at least it could be part of a program that would make a difference.
I don’t think that our government is going to be defunded by tax protesters, but I think a significant dent in the budget could be made — significant enough to make the money-spenders take notice. In any case, if a critical mass of people, or enough well-known or well-respected people, took this step it would certainly signify that a new line had been crossed. The opposition would be taken more seriously, and, as important, they would take themselves more seriously.
So I got to thinking about what kind of rallying cry I could design to try to convince people to join in. Before long, I was writing a long rant. Here it is:
You already know that things have gotten bad. Our democracy was drunkenly crashed and never sent to the repair shop. The government is preaching liberty but imprisoning a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country on earth. Now it is trying to evade the few remaining protections the courts will enforce by “disappearing” people indefinitely in cages on foreign soil where the Constitution won’t reach. It is condoning, and even participating in torture — in the twenty-first century: torture! It is using bald-faced lies to justify world-dominating ambitions of a sort we used to like to claim we were defending the world against.
Maybe you’ve wondered to yourself, “what will I do if it gets so bad that I have to do something?” You know that there are few things more shameful than being like the “Good German” who did his best to keep his head down and go about his business as the stormtroopers marched by. Or maybe you already realize that it is bad enough — you know that America can be better and should be better and that its current policies are not just unfortunate and misguided, but utterly shameful and horribly dangerous. But you’re not sure what to do about it.
You’re not alone. There are many, many people who feel the same way. Some of them have found their calling and are working to fight for what is right. But it’s also true that a lot of people who feel the way you do are actively supporting the very government and the very policies that they know are wrong.
Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, famously dismissed the people who were protesting against the continuing arms race by saying, “let them march all they want, so long as they continue to pay their taxes.”
He hit the nail on the head: Write all the letters-to-the-editor you want, carry your signs and banners downtown, practice your chants and put that bumper-sticker on your car — the folks in power don’t much care: that sort of thing has never gotten in their way before. If you’re still paying your taxes, the government can consider you a supporter no matter what you’ve got on your T-shirt or your weblog.
What’s the point of mentioning this? After all, aren’t “death and taxes” life’s inevitables? Well, as it turns out, the federal income tax is far from inevitable.
Today, about 25% of the people who file federal income tax returns in the United States end up putting a big zero on the line that says how much they owe. That’s right — a quarter of U.S. “taxpayers” don’t pay any federal income tax. Some of them even get “refunds” of money they never paid in the first place.
I swear I’m not selling anything — I don’t have some far-out overseas investment scheme or a book about some weird legal theory that makes the IRS roll their eyes and call their lawyers. I’m just telling you the facts as they are: Lots and lots of people in the United States don’t pay taxes because they don’t have to. You can look it up.
How do they do it? A few of them are crafty, and use various sneaky tax dodges — or they don’t need to earn any “income” because they have plenty of money already. But most of them just plain don’t earn enough money to rise above the threshold of taxation in the first place.
25% of income tax filers are not helping to row the ship of state. Now that you know this — what is your excuse? Why do you continue to row? You see where the ship is going. You know who’s at the helm. You know that what the government is doing is terribly wrong. You know that you are subsidizing this with your tax dollars. And now you know that to avoid being an accessory to the crime is so easy that fully one quarter of your fellow “taxpayers” are getting away with it.
“Well,” you might say, “it would take quite a sacrifice for me to lower my income that much. I don’t know if a life of poverty is a good trade-off for no longer funding the government. There must be another way.”
Oh, there are other ways to oppose what the government is doing, and I hope you find one. Remember, though, that if you start off by supporting the government with your money, you’ve got a bigger hole to dig yourself out of if you want to oppose it with the rest of your actions.
And if you think lowering your income enough to evade taxes is a terrible sacrifice either you don’t know just how much untaxed income you can get away with (in which case, do your homework), or you aren’t really all that interested in washing the blood off of your hands (in which case, well, sucks to be you). Be happy if this is the only sacrifice you’re being asked to make. If things in the United States continue on their present trajectory, a lot more is going to be demanded of you and you’ll wish you’d gotten around to the easy stuff sooner.
This year I made more money than 90–95% of the people on earth and I’m not paying a dime of it in federal income tax. And I’m not playing sneaky, illegal tricks with the IRS, or using bizarre theories out of some tax protester’s handbook. I’m using legitimate exemptions and deductions in a completely above-board manner, because, like 25% of the rest of us, I don’t owe anything. If the IRS comes and audits my returns next year, I’ll come out smelling like a rose.
Go on strike! You might be convinced to do it for more pay, better benefits, and safer working conditions. So why not go on strike to protect your conscience from participation in what you know to be wrong? Why not go on strike and take back those hours of the day you used to spend working to satisfy the warped spending priorities of a bunch of craven politicians.
Yes, you may have to make less money than you’re making now — I’m making about a quarter of what I was before I took the plunge. Swallow hard and deal with it. You’ll still be filthy rich compared to most of mankind, and if that isn’t a good enough trade to get your soul back I’m sorry because you’re not likely to find a better one. Ask yourself what you’d have to change in your life in order to live on less, and then start doing it. Get out of debt, watch your spending, reconsider expensive pasttimes and possessions. The best things in life are free, so start helping yourself to ’em. Here’s something to sweeten the pot: earning less money takes less time — so you’ll have more time to enjoy the best things in life.
If you and your friends go and hold up a banner in front of the federal building, well, that’s just a sign. But if you and your friends go on strike — that’s a sign. It’s a sign that you’re really fed up, that you’re not just going to complain about it but you’re going to change your life to do something about it. And it’s a sign that the politicians will sit up and take notice of because it’s written in money, a language that they understand.
I think it needs some work. First off, it’s too damned long. Second, it’s too arrogant. It’s one thing to be confident, especially when you’re trying to rally the troops. It’s another to claim that you’ve got it all figured out and you’ve got the solution everyone’s been looking for. (It’s also probably insensitive to people who are already in the under-the-tax-line 25%, not by choice, and who would consider a challenge to reduce their income to be absurd if not obscene.) I’ve got to trim it down a bunch and respect uncertainty and ambiguity, and better target it at current taxpayers.
I’d appreciate if those of you who have read this far would give me your impressions of the rant’s strengths and weaknesses.