In ’s Picket Line I had some discouraging things to say about ideas like the “Peace Tax Fund.” In fact, I dismissed them as worthless and wondered why they were so popular in war tax resistance circles.
I decided that I’d better take a closer look and make sure I really understood what I was talking about.
The “Peace Tax Fund” movement is active in something like 17 countries, and bills have been introduced in at least 7 national legislatures to create such funds.
Each bill and campaign is a little different, but they all appear to be essentially the same idea. The U.S. bill “would create a separate fund in the U.S. Treasury that can only be used for any government purpose that is not military in nature. This will allow a CO to check a box on the tax form, like the presidential election fund option, and pay their full tax liability, but have 100% of their tax obligation kept out of any war efforts. The instruction booklet would have an explanatory paragraph about what it means to be a CO. Levels of participation in this fund would be reported to Congress annually, and thus published in the Congressional Record,” says one source. It “will allow legally defined conscientious objectors to pay 100% of their taxes into a separate fund that will be used only for government spending that is not for a military purpose. The level of contribution to this fund will be annually entered into the Congressional Record, and information about the fund will be published in both the tax return form and the instruction booklet. The apportionment powers of Congress will not be restricted while relief of suffering will be granted to tens of thousands otherwise not able to earn above the taxable level of income or otherwise forced to refuse payment of taxes,” says another.
I have tried to identify the benefits of this legislation, as suggested by the campaigns’ promoters:
Sends a Message
- “It will be a watershed event for religious and civil liberties when a major military power acknowledges its citizens have a just claim to freedom of conscience which has been denied.”
- “Each set of federal tax instructions for 160 million U.S. taxpayers would include this information about conscientious objector status.” This would raise public awareness about conscientious objection to war. Also it “would be an educational vehicle that uses the tax form to spread awareness that alternatives to war are sought,” and it “would advertise to the nation and to the world that there is not blanket approval of war and that we have a peaceful minority.” “The level of participation in the Peace Tax Fund would be published in the Congressional Record every year. This information would be the most comprehensive and visible barometer for judging the nation’s conscience in regard to participating in war, and could build momentum toward changing military spending priorities.” “The Peace Tax Fund Bill would be a meaningful step towards raising the national consciousness about misplaced military priorities.”
Signals Government Approval of Conscientiousness
- A “Peace Tax Fund” bill “would restore freedom of religion… to taxpayers whose religious or moral convictions forbid their participation in war” and it “would be another step in the de-criminalization of conscientious objection, broadening the rights of conscience to include objection to military taxation.”
Increases Funds Available to Government
- “There are currently thousands of people of conscience who refuse to pay some or all of their federal income taxes because such money pays for war. The government would receive increased revenue if people of conscience knew their taxes were used only for life-affirming purposes.” The text of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act introduced into the U.S. Congress includes a section that reads: “the Joint Committee on Taxation has certified that a tax trust fund, providing for conscientious objector taxpayers to pay their full taxes for non-military purposes, would increase Federal revenues.”
- “It is important to recognise that diverted tax would not affect the defence budget, which would be set in the normal way.”
Relieves Suffering of War Tax Resisters
- It would relieve the suffering of current war tax resisters, who would be able to go back to a legal, above-board, taxpaying life or earn a taxable income.
- “It would provide standing for any future legislation introduced to promote peace and social justice, and would stand as an argument against increased military spending.”
- “As a legal precedent, this would allow previously lost Court cases to be appealed.”
My most basic objection to this set of points is that I don’t believe that a bill that allows the government to have more money and to spend as much of it as it would like to on war is anything like a step in the right direction or anything war tax resisters ought to waste their time on. My secondary objection is that quite clearly some war tax resisters would indeed be deceived into feeling that they could again pay taxes with a clear conscience if a “peace tax bill” were passed — while in reality nothing in the moral equation would have changed. There’s no virtue in further clouding the moral challenge of taxation in this way.
Many of these other alleged benefits seem either unlikely or not worth these negative results. The symbolic, message-sending benefits are the most plausible, but seem just as attainable without the benefit of an act of Congress.
Only one page of the many I visited when searching for information on these “peace tax funds” even attempted to squarely address the most glaring flaws of the campaign:
“Conscientious objection to military taxation would legally parallel conscientious objection to military service. The work performed by conscientious objectors during the draft did not result in fewer soldiers going to war. Likewise, the tax dollars contributed by conscientious objectors to the Peace Tax Fund would not change budgetary priorities. Yet this does not diminish the power of either moral stand.”
But this is not accurate. When someone declared himself a conscientious objector that person did not take up arms and kill. Perhaps somebody else was drafted to do so instead, this is true, but that person, the conscientious one, did not. A “peace tax fund” payer, on the contrary, pays just as much money as the non-fund payer, but just cherishes the illusion that her dollars were peaceful ones. It would be as if the government told conscientious objectors that they had to take up arms and shoot at the enemy just like everybody else, but that they didn’t have to take credit for their kills if they didn’t want to.
The government can’t solve your moral dilemma for you by making a separate slot above the basket for conscientious people to pass their taxes through. That’s just silly, and makes “conscientious” people look not conscientious at all but naïve and easily bought-off.
So what are the alternatives?
Whether or not a “peace tax fund” is enacted, the basic problem of not wanting to contribute to activities you think are immoral remains the same, and tax resistance continues to be a good response to that problem. If the idea of a “peace tax fund” is attractive to you, I would suggest not waiting for the government to create one for you, but to go ahead and donate money directly to charities that you consider valuable. If merely the illusion of having paid taxes that were only used for peaceful purposes is enough for you, visualize every dollar that you paid going directly into the budget for your favorite government program (you can do this even without a “peace tax fund” bill and it will mean just as much).