Bizarre Flat-Earth Legalisms Inspire Constitutionalist Tax Protesters

And now, for a brand new episode of Mr. Cranky-Pants Answers Your Tax Questions:

Dear Mr. Cranky-Pants:

I just read a remarkable article that says that the Internal Revenue Code never defines “income” and so there’s no way of knowing how to pay your income tax.

Furthermore, while the IRS says that I “must file a return or statement with us for any tax you are liable for” if you look through the Internal Revenue Code, just like there’s no definition of “income,” there’s also no section that says anything about who is “liable for” income tax!

The author suggests that I send in my 1040 with the following note: “I cannot supply these data because I do not know whether I received any ‘income’ or not. If you will define the term for me (also under penalty of perjury, naturally) I will be glad to prepare appropriate figures and make due payment.”

What do you think?

―Taxfree in Tulsa

Dear TIT:

I’m surprised at how many people manage to see wisdom in the bizarre flat-earth legalisms of the tax protester club.

Every time one of them comes up with some new flight of fancy about what the laws really mean, eventually someone from the government stands up in court, declares that the law doesn’t mean that at all, and then a judge solemnly agrees and writes a decision about how the tax protester argument is a bunch of hooey and here’s why chapter-and-verse and then — inevitably — the tax protesters move the goalposts and find another reason why everything ought to be the way they say it is and the process repeats.

The powers that be don’t need to emit some incantation of your choosing “under penalty of perjury” you see, because they’re in charge and they’re the ones setting the rules.

For a moment, try to imagine what it all boils down to: the incredible fantasy that one day some enlightened and powerful judges are going to throw all precedent out the window and defund the government that writes their paychecks, saying “those tax protesters are right! Congress failed to dot its ‘i’s and cross its ‘t’s and nobody’s paycheck can be legally taxed. Refunds for everyone!”

Does that sound like the justice system you know?

“But if the government were operating according to its own Constitution and to its own rules…” But, but, but if wishes were rainbows we’d all be living in a psychedelic wonderland.

This endless whining — “I don’t care what the courts say: show me the law under penalty of perrrrjury!” — is how pre-teens argue with their parents about curfew. This isn’t how grown-ups with any understanding about how the world works operate.

Even if the tax protester legalesque incantations weren’t just a bunch of head-in-the-sand codswallop, do you really think the government would just roll over and defund itself in response to a bunch of amateur sophistry? It doesn’t work that way, kids.

The tax protesters, bless their hearts, think that The Law has A Meaning that they have scrupulously divined through their carefully-documented methods, and that once this Meaning is unlocked and shared with the world, the government — this legendary government “of laws, not men” which the scriptures foretell — will be forced to acknowledge it.

Alas, this translation of The Law into the vulgate means diddly over squat because the people who enforce the law don’t take their marching orders from tax protesters but from another class of people who spend their time interpreting The Law and who have actual power and authority within the legal system.

Congress passes tax laws, the IRS administers them, the courts back the IRS up, and tax protesters get their assets gobbled up and get injunctions filed against them and get tossed in jail. Happens all the time. And yet in some Perfect Platonic Tax Protester Universe, the tax protesters aren’t really losing and the government isn’t really winning, because the tax protesters are actually right and the government is actually wrong.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the tax protesters keep getting summarily blown-off in court and every legal apparatus that actually holds the power to interpret and enforce the laws considers the Tax Protester arguments to be unworthy of serious consideration.

This isn’t to say that the tax protesters aren’t a bother to the government, or that they don’t occasionally “win” in the sense that it costs more for the government to go after them than the government hopes to gain from defeating them. To this, I say: “huzzah for the feckless tax protesters!”

But intelligent people should realize that the legal arguments they bundle up with before heading into these mosquito battles are like the snake oils and totems that some modern African warriors use in the belief that these make them invisible to bullets — placebos that may stimulate bravery but that have no actual protective effect.

―Yours sincerely, Mr. Cranky-Pants